From Bricks to Marble | Ben Weinreb (1912-1999)

From Bricks to Marble | Ben Weinreb (1912-1999)

Ben Weinreb (1912-1999), born in Halifax, West Yorkshire, was an antiquarian bookseller and architectural historian whose lifetime’s worth of acquisitions has laid the foundations for the study of architectural history throughout the world. Now, three plaster models from his collection have made their way to Sworders, that he linked to two other titans of architectural history: Sir Robert Smirke and John Nash.

24 May 2024




Ben's influence on the study of architectural history is undeniable; he could see the importance of collecting primary resources and books on the discipline many years before the subject was fashionable or formally recognised, and had created such an important collection - including maps, atlases and religious architecture - that in 1968, the University of Texas bought his entire stock, forming an integral part of their architectural archives.

‘He found the raw material of architectural scholarship bricks and left it marble’ – Anthony Rota for The Guardian, 1999


A plaster of Paris model of Maison Carrée c.1820s (£6,000-8,000)

A plaster of Paris model of Maison Carrée c.1820s (£6,000-8,000)


Handwritten notes by Ben, which, by repute, were corroborated by the architectural historian Sir John Summerson (1904-1992), make the suggestion that these three models once belonged to Sir Robert Smirke (1780-1867), an English architect responsible for the design of the main block and façade of the British Museum, London. It is plausible that he acquired the models from another known collection of plaster models, attributed to the Fouquets and belonging to the architect John Nash (1752-1835).

Nash owned a series of models of Greek and Roman buildings, including those he displayed in the Gallery of Architecture at his house in Regent Street, some of which are now in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Models such as these were used as prototypes by architects and inspiration for their own designs, and visitors to the gallery were clearly encouraged to associate the great buildings of classical antiquity to the improvements being made to London at the time.


A plaster of Paris model of Ilisos Temple c.1820s (£6,000-8,000)

A plaster of Paris model of Ilisos Temple c.1820s (£6,000-8,000)


The sale of Nash’s architectural library took place after his death in 1835, in which no models are mentioned; however, Nash may have privately disposed of other possessions towards the end of his life. Despite an illustrious career, with designs including the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, Marble Arch, Regent’s Park, and Buckingham Palace, Nash ran into professional controversy in his later years and after King George IV passed away in 1830, his career as a public architect virtually ceased overnight. At a period when Smirke was professionally thriving - he was working on the British Museum throughout the 1820s-30s and knighted in 1832 – it is very possible that he used the opportunity to acquire the models.


A plaster of Paris model of the Temple of Hera II at Paestum c.1820s (£6,000-8,000)

A plaster of Paris model of the Temple of Hera II at Paestum c.1820s (£6,000-8,000)



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