Buying into decadence

The 1920s was one of the most exciting decades of the 20th century, when fresh and innovative names such as Coco Channel and Eileen Gray emerged. Auctioneer Jeremy Thornton surveys its glamour and excesses

The Great War forced women into the workplace and with this came a surge of female aspiration and ambition. An entire generation of young men had been killed and the traditional pre-war roles of wife and mother were gone too.

The change in women’s roles is the most striking social feature of the decade. Women felt liberated in the 1920s. The decade saw the birth of the flapper, new found freedoms and decadence. These elements are seen in the art deco design of the period, especially in glass lamp shades and lights made to show-off the marvels of electricity.

The 1920s saw great decadence and excess, but it all ended with the Wall Street Crash. It was when the great families of old and money had their last hurrah. But you get a sense they enjoyed spending their money on the luxurious designs that are now highly collectable classics.


If you want to bring an element of 1920’s design into your home, Rene Lalique’s free flowing art glass is a perfect place to start. His decorative and useful wares encapsulate the spirit of the times with exciting and unusual designs.

By the turn of the 20th century, Lalique had already proved himself to be a highly creative jeweller, producing the distinctive Art Nouveau, which used of non-precious materials such as horn and glass. However, it is after the war when production really expanded. In 1921 he moved to a larger factory in Alsace where he produced useable and innovative glass bringing it into the homes of everyday people. By the time of the landmark 1925 Exposition des Arts Decoratifs, Lalique was a leading glass manufacturer and a key participant in the design led period.

It is the energy and daring of the designs that to me still rings across the century and makes the objects of the 1920s fresh and exciting today.

Jeremy Thornton is an auctioneer at Biddle & Webb, which has been established in Birmingham for over 50 years.