Penguin Donkey

Bookcase
1939 (designed), 1939 (manufactured)
Penguin Donkey thumbnail 1
Penguin Donkey thumbnail 2
+1
images
Not currently on display at the V&A

Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Jack Pritchard's Isokon company was one of the few British examples of a firm truly devoted to Modernism. In addition to building London's Lawn Road Flats, in Hampstead, Pritchard employed a succession of continental Modernists to work for his furniture company. These included the Germans Walter Gropius and Arthur Korn, and the Hungarian Marcel Breuer, as well as the Viennese emigré Egon Riss. Riss (who lived briefly in Lawn Road Flats, as had Gropius and Breuer) designed one of Isokon's most intriguing products. The Penguin Donkey was created specifically to carry the new type of paperback book, which for the first time made available reasonably priced, best-quality, international literature to a wide public for the price of a pack of cigarettes (which were themselves relatively cheaper than today). The books were stacked in the side elements (appropriately referred to as panniers) and newspapers and magazines were slotted into the centre. The organic, curvilinear shape of the Donkey, raised on legs rounded in elevation, was made possible by the use of very thin plywood.

Isokon's production was always very small, but it appears that only a few of the Donkeys were made before war began. Pritchard had agreement from Penguin's publisher Allen Lane to insert leaflets advertising the Donkey into every Penguin book. Had war not broken out, it is possible that the Donkey would have been Isokon's first commercially successful product. Despite its very limited production, the Donkey had an afterlife. While many modernist designs have been manufactured after the 1960s (some for the first time in quantity), the Penguin Donkey has been reinvented several times. In 1963 Pritchard sold a new version ('Mark 2'), revised by the well-known designer Ernest Race In 2003 Isokon's successor firm, Isokon Plus, began making the Donkey 3, designed by Shin and Tomoko Azumi.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Parts
This object consists of 3 parts.

  • Bookcase
  • CNFR
  • Shelf
Materials and Techniques
Plywood
Brief Description
Penguin Donkey bookcase, designed by Egon Riss, manufactured by Isokon Furniture Company, London, plywood, 1939
Physical Description
Free-standing U-shaped bookshelf, the overall shape formed from a single sheet of bent plywood creating a central well for storing magazines, the sides fitted with plywood shelves for Penguin paperback books, on four plywood feet. The shape is reminiscent of paniers or saddlebags, giving rise to the object name.
Dimensions
  • Height: 43.3cm
  • Width: 59.8cm
  • Depth: 41.5cm
Style
Gallery Label
  • 'Penguin Donkey' Bookcase 1939 Egon Riss (1901-64) The 'Penguin Donkey' was designed specifically to carry the new Penguin paperbacks. Books were stacked in the side elements (or 'panniers') and newspapers and magazines slotted into the centre. To advertise it, a leaflet was included in every Penguin book. Had war not broken out the 'Donkey' might well have been Isokon's first commercially successful product. Britain Manufactured by Isokon Furniture Co., London Plywood V&A: W.19-1993. Gift of Mr J.E. Tinkler(27/02/2006)
  • 'PENGUIN DONKEY' BOOKCASE Designed by Egon Riss (Austrian, 1902-1964) and Jack Pritchard (British, 1899-1992) Manufactured by Isokon Furniture Company, London Plywood 1939 Pritchard's Isokon firm employed several European emigré designers, among them Egon Riss, to design plywood furniture. The small bookcase was marketed with advertisements slipped into Penguin paper-backs and became known as the Penguin Donkey as it resembled the paniers of a saddle bag. This example was bought by mail order in 1940 for £2 2s. Given by Mr J.E. Tinkler W.19-1993(1993-2006)
Credit line
Given by Mr J. E. Tinkler
Historical context
See later version designed by Ernest Race, 1963, W.9-1994
Summary
Jack Pritchard's Isokon company was one of the few British examples of a firm truly devoted to Modernism. In addition to building London's Lawn Road Flats, in Hampstead, Pritchard employed a succession of continental Modernists to work for his furniture company. These included the Germans Walter Gropius and Arthur Korn, and the Hungarian Marcel Breuer, as well as the Viennese emigré Egon Riss. Riss (who lived briefly in Lawn Road Flats, as had Gropius and Breuer) designed one of Isokon's most intriguing products. The Penguin Donkey was created specifically to carry the new type of paperback book, which for the first time made available reasonably priced, best-quality, international literature to a wide public for the price of a pack of cigarettes (which were themselves relatively cheaper than today). The books were stacked in the side elements (appropriately referred to as panniers) and newspapers and magazines were slotted into the centre. The organic, curvilinear shape of the Donkey, raised on legs rounded in elevation, was made possible by the use of very thin plywood.



Isokon's production was always very small, but it appears that only a few of the Donkeys were made before war began. Pritchard had agreement from Penguin's publisher Allen Lane to insert leaflets advertising the Donkey into every Penguin book. Had war not broken out, it is possible that the Donkey would have been Isokon's first commercially successful product. Despite its very limited production, the Donkey had an afterlife. While many modernist designs have been manufactured after the 1960s (some for the first time in quantity), the Penguin Donkey has been reinvented several times. In 1963 Pritchard sold a new version ('Mark 2'), revised by the well-known designer Ernest Race In 2003 Isokon's successor firm, Isokon Plus, began making the Donkey 3, designed by Shin and Tomoko Azumi.
Associated Objects
Bibliographic References
  • View From the Long Chair, Jack Pritchard, p116
  • The Studio, vol.119 no.565 pp.138-9.
Collection
Accession Number
W.19:1 to 3-1993

About this object record

Explore the Collections contains over a million catalogue records, and over half a million images. It is a working database that includes information compiled over the life of the museum. Some of our records may contain offensive and discriminatory language, or reflect outdated ideas, practice and analysis. We are committed to addressing these issues, and to review and update our records accordingly.

You can write to us to suggest improvements to the record.

Suggest Feedback

record createdJuly 15, 2005
Record URL