This section is from the book "The Potato: A Compilation of Information from Every Available Source", by Eugene H. Grubb, W. S. Guilford. Also available from Amazon: The Potato: A Compilation Of Information From Every Available Source.
A series of wet seasons, culminating in the disastrous season of 1879, wrought great havoc among the crops of the country, particularly in England. A departmental committee was appointed to investigate the whole question of producing new varieties, and they recommended that parliament should initiate and subsidize experiments designed to produce new and disease-proof varieties; but this recommendation was never acted on. Lord Cathcart, in commenting on this report, states: 'All potatoes have degenerated in their disease-resisting powers. A variety from seed takes four to six years for its establishment, and under the most favorable circumstances a good variety may be expected to degenerate in twenty years. The production of new varieties is of national importance.'
Through the influence of Lord Cathcart, Mr. J. G. Baker, the eminent botanist, was led to make an exhaustive study of the genus Solanum, in order to advise as to the relation of the cultivated varieties to the various wild species found in the American continent, preparatory to hybridizing experiments in which these wild species might be used. As a result of his investigations, detailed in his ' Review of the Tuber-Bearing Species of Solanum,' he recommended the crossing of the cultivated varieties with the Darwin potato, Solanum Maglia, from the Chonos Archipelago, and the Uruguay potato, Solanum Commersoni. Lord Cathcart furnished specimens of the S. Maglia to the Messrs. Sutton for crossing purposes, but the produce obtained from crossing the best cultivated varieties with the S. Maglia were far behind in appearance, crop, and quality. The cross with the Commersoni was attempted year after year, but without success.
During these years of investigation and experiment, however, the hybridizer, like the schoolmaster, had been abroad. Many excellent new varieties were brought out by the Messrs. Sutton, whose name is synonymous with excellence and quality in every department of farm and garden seeds. Numerous other enthusiasts in the same line added their quota to the national stock, but all through the '80's the Champion and the Magnum continued to hold the leading places. But in England in particular the crops were often very disappointing. The English growers had not then learned the lesson so well known by the early Scotch growers of getting a change of seed from the colder and later climate of Scotland.
In the end of the '80's public attention began to be attracted to the new varieties raised by Mr. Findlay, then of Markinch, Fifeshire. His first success was the Bruce, which gave excellent results for a time. Later on he followed with the Up-to-Date and the British Queen, both of which were excellent varieties. At one time it seemed as if both these varieties would have to be discarded on account of disease, but they seemed to recover their vigor and reputation. In fact, the Up-to-Date, though it has now been before the public for some fourteen years, is still probably the variety most largely grown throughout the country. Shortly after it was brought out it was grown on a large scale on Lord Rosebery's home farms at Dalmeny, and the enormous crops of Dates then produced - which certainly were grown on exceptionally excellent and lavishly manured soil - helped greatly to bring the Date into public favor. The Langworthy, brought out by Mr. Niven of Madderty, Crieff, about the same time as the Up-to-Date, is a variety of exceptional cooking quality, but is not so heavy a cropper, though it generally commands a higher price per ton. Other varieties, such as the Scottish Triumph (raised by Mr. Gemmell, Flakefield, Hamilton), the Crofter, and the Factor (raised by Mr. Chapman, Bathgate), the Dalmeny Hero (raised by Mr. John Hunter, F. I. C), and many others, have their backers as the main crop varieties most approved by them.
So matters stood at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. Then there was brought about the great Potato Boom, which may well take its place in history along with the South Sea Bubble. The circumstances at the time were all in favor of those who worked up the boom, for in 1902, and still more so in the following year, the season was very unfavorable for the potato crop in the United Kingdom as well as on the Continent, so that prices for sound tubers ruled high; and those who were fortunate enough to have large and sound crops - as many of the farmers in Scotland were - reaped a golden harvest in each of these years. The methods and agencies by which it (the boom) was worked were those so well known and so frequently resorted to by the Bulls and the Bears of the Stock Exchange. In the centre of the boom were two new varieties, which were declared to be immense croppers and practically immune against the disease. During the winter of 1902-1903 prices for one of these varieties were forced up to an unprecedented level. But at the end of the following season, when the disease was again very prevalent and prices for sound tubers were abnormally high, a perfect frenzy for new varieties seemed to seize upon growers. Day by day and week by week the reading public were informed that some prominent grower or other had bought a tuber of one of these new varieties at $100, $250, or $500, and as these reports increased the delirium of buyers increased. Some of these reported purchases of tubers at more than their weight in gold were undoubtedly genuine; and in a lawsuit regarding the non-delivery of a stone (14 pounds) of one of these new varieties in the spring of 1904 evidence was led to show that three pounds of that precious stone had been sold before hand at $800 per pound! The public appetite for new varieties seemed to be insatiable at the time, and scores of new varieties - most of which were old friends with new names - were rushed upon the market and eagerly snapped up at fabulous prices by growers.
Even at the termination of the planting season of 1904 the delirium had not subsided. The boomers had still another arrow in their quiver, and they shot that shaft with far-reaching aim. Miles of greenhouses were rushed up for the purpose of 'forcing' tubers of the $800 per pound variety, and the public was conjured to buy shoots or sprouts of that and other varieties at $20 each. Thousands of farmers and gardeners who could not afford to buy a pound of tubers at $800 per pound rushed to buy these precious shoots at from $10 to $20 each. One developer boasted that he had taken 1,000 shoots from a single tuber, so that if he had sold all these at an average of $15 each he would have made $15,000 off a single tuber, and had that precious tuber left to grow a further crop with.