Designed by Viennese architect Egon Riss in 1939 and made by Isokon, the Isokon Penguin Donkey Bookcase like all other Isokon furniture exploit the strength and lightness of bent plywood. Originally called the Donkey because of its 4 legs and 2 panniers, the compact bookshelf and magazine rack added “Penguin” to its name in 1939, when Allen Lee of Penguin books fell in love with it and placed 100,000 leaflets advertising it, free of charge, inside Penguin books, and the newly renamed “Isokon Penguin Donkey” looked set to be a great success. Unfortunately World War II broke out at exactly the time when the Donkey was launched and the production of the Donkey ceased. Only about a hundred Donkeys were made, which all sold very fast. While many Modernist designs have been manufactured after the 1960´s, the Penguin Donkey has been reinvented several times. In 1963 Pritchard sold a new version of the Donkey (‘Mark 2’) re-designed by well-known designer Ernest Race and in 2003, Isokon’s successor firm, Isokon Plus, began making the Donkey 3, designed by Shin and Tomoko Azumi. The reproduction of this classic piece is available through Isokon Plus.
Formed from 3 or more wood veneers glued together, plywood can be steam-bent or heated for shaping, but at Isokon it is bent into shape in moulds, under pressure. A simple lacquer coat on the top layer shows off the beautiful contours and flash effects of the wood, whose swirls and patterns form a natural counterpoint to the brisk, clean-lined modern shapes of the furniture.