Article by Lindsay Rose-McLean

rt deco is a term applied to a popular aesthetic movement that was prominent in parts of Europe, Britain, and North America between 1910 and 1939. It was introduced on a grand scale in 1925 at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes held in Paris, France. Close associations with both decorative and industrial design meant that the aesthetic had an impact on everything from silverware and cocktail shakers to skyscrapers and luxury ocean liners. It became widely renowned for its associations with modernity, new technology, and a decadent way of life. Most prominent in larger cities, which in Canada included Toronto and Montreal, the movement had a tremendous influence on home furnishings, fashion, and architecture.

The years between 1920 and 1930 are popularly described as the Jazz Age in North American culture, when flappers with bobbed hair and newly liberated hemlines ventured out to hear live music performed at speakeasies or flocked to the cinema to watch glamorous movie stars sip, smoke, and dance their way across the silver screen. Many popular films of the time depicted characters enjoying an alcoholic beverage, but in Canada the consumption of alcohol remained illegal until the repeal of Prohibition in 1927. Of course, drinking did occur, but those who indulged had to be more creative about their consumption.

Legend has it that the North American birth of the modern cocktail occurred during the early 1920s in New York City, where a clever bartender decided to add fruit juice and syrup to some rather deplorable homemade gin in an effort to make it more palatable for his customers. Desperate measures of manufacture during Prohibition yielded poor-quality spirits. The result was a new twist on the time-honoured concept of a mixed drink. Gin, being the cheapest and most conve¬nient choice for amateur distillation, became the common base ingredient in the Prohibition-era cocktail. Popular concoctions of this variety ranged from the Fox Trot to racier and more exotic choices such as Between the Sheets and Zanzibar.

Excerpted from Spring/Summer 2013 Ornamentum. Click here to subscribe.

Lindsay Rose-McLean, Editorial Assistant of Ornamentum, is a graduate of the Museum Studies Program at the University of Toronto and a decorative arts appraiser in Toronto.

Vintage Bakelite dice-shaped salt-and-pepper set, toothpick holder, and cocktail recipe holder
Photograph: Courtesy of Waddington’s Auction House