Marx Lane
Marx Playset Figures, Structures and Accessories
Manufactured from 1951 to 1980

 

Appendix E-4 - Ben Hur and the Roman Empire
Contents of this web site may not be reproduced or duplicated for use on the Internet or for commercial purposes without permission by Eric Johns.



Table of Contents

(click on name to move to section)
The Ben Hur Play Set
Character Figures
Romans and Gladiators
Structures
Small Accessories
Tent Accessories
Chariots
Animals
Catapult
Other Roman Empire Figures
Warriors of the World (WOW)
6-Inch Roman Warriors
GoldMarx Roman Warriors
Back to Main Table of Contents


This page on Marx's Ben Hur playsets is made possible by long-time Marx expert Rick Koch.  For those who are not familiar with Rick, he wrote the invaluable column Rick's Picks in the former magazine Plastic Figure and Playset Collector (PFPC), provides much information for the current Playset Magazine, and sells quality old toys (lots of Marx) on Ebay under Ebay ID toy-hood.  He has allowed me to use his photos from Ben Hur playsets that he recently auctioned off.  Although the photos are not quite the same as on most pages of this web site -- many playset pieces are not shown individually -- I believe that everything in the set is either pictured on this page or is noted as "Photo not available at this time."

A few of the photos come from other fellow collectors, and they are credited with their photos below.  In addition, Marx made a small number of playset-related figures, which are shown at the bottom of this web site.  These are Roman soldiers, which are part of the company's Warriors of the World (WOW) and 6-inch figure groups.  

The Ben Hur Play Set

The Marx Ben Hur Playset was first sold in late 1959, in plenty of time to be under the Christmas tree that year.  For once Marx did its marketing right; the playset came out just about the same time that the movie Ben Hur opened, starring Charlton Heston.  Several similar movies based on Roman spectaculars (i.e., chariot races) had hit the movies theaters not long before.

According to Playset Magazine Issue 30, two Ben Hur sets were released in 1959:  1) the large #4701 which had six sets of figures and eight chariots and 2) the smaller #4702 which had a still impressive four sets of figures and four chariots. A smaller set (#4696) was released in 1960 with only two sets of figures and without many of the accessories in the other two sets.  According to PFPC, the large set sold for $12.98.  Today, it is not unusual to see one or two figures in the set sell for that price.  

The set was a huge hit with the kids of the 1960's, though it never quite made it to the level of perennial sets such as the Wild West, gas stations, and farms.  Its popularity continues among collectors today.  According to Playset Magazine, the sets' last appearance on store shelves was in 1963.

PFPC Issue 14 has high praise for the Ben Hur playsets.  "When all the pieces are assembled and on display," the magazine's feature article states, "there isn't another playset that can compare to the color and grandeur of Ben Hur.  Without a doubt, it is one of Marx's premier achievements in his history of playset production."

The #4701 is certainly one of the largest sets the company made, having not only 96 figures plus the three character figures (in purple), but 32 horses, two lions, two tigers, three tents with accessories, a market place, a variety of "city accessories," and of course the set's large coliseum with colorful banners and spiked gates to let the wild animals into the arena (though you'd need four sets to complete an entire oval coliseum).  Having been sold for a relatively limited time before its popularity declined, a complete playset is now hard to find and very expensive.

Most of the sets' pieces have been re-issued, including an entire playset from Mexico.  The re-issue set has enough pieces to make up a complete coliseum oval, but Playset Magazine reports that not all the original figures and accessories are included, some have been replaced by items from other companies, and all pieces are made from a brittle plastic in various glossy colors.  The magazine also notes, however, that nice re-issues exist of some individual set pieces.

The Ben Hur Playset was featured in PFPC Issue 14 and Playset Magazine Issue 30.
 

Character Figures
(PL-1038)

The three playset had three character figures: an emperor, an empress (giving the thumbs-down sign), and Ben Hur  Ben Hur is made in the likeness of Charlton Heston, who played the role in the movie, and is posed to be driving a chariot.  If reins had been included in the set, they would fit perfectly into his hands once his square base is fit snuggly into a chariot.  The two charioteers included in the set's figure group (see below) are posed in a similar manner with the same base.

The three character figures generally appeared in what Playset Magazine calls "a beautiful translucent purple color", but were also made in a now hard-to-find cream color in the smaller #4696 set.  I've included both colors below, because the purple does not show all the details well.
1.  Ben Hur
Photo courtesy of Rick Koch, Ebay ID toy-hood
2.  Emperor
Photo courtesy of Rick Koch, Ebay ID toy-hood
3.  Emperess
Photo courtesy of Rick Koch, Ebay ID toy-hood
1.  Ben Hur
Photo courtesy of Rick Koch, Ebay ID toy-hood
2.  Emperor
Photo courtesy of Rick Koch, Ebay ID toy-hood
3.  Emperess
Photo courtesy of Rick Koch, Ebay ID toy-hood
 



Romans and Gladiators (PL-1037)

This approximately 54mm scale, 16-pose figure group includes a good variety of Roman citizens and gladiators.  The mold included one of each pose in a soft plastic cream, gray, or tan (called beige by Playset Magazine).  

Because I do not have individual photos of each figure, I have included two photos from Rick Koch, one made in gray and one in tan.  The gray group includes all 16; from left to right, they are:

1.    Roman standing with box, left arm out
2.    Gladiator with sword and round shield
3.    Charioteer with spear
4.    Roman seated with left hand raised
5.    Gladiator with sword and square shield
6.    Trumpeter
7.    Roman with whip
8.    Gladiator on knees
9.    Roman woman with jar
10.  Gladiator with trident and net
11.  Roman calling
12.  Charioteer with looped whip
13.  Roman woman seated
14.  Gladiator with round shield
15.  Roman with whip
16.  Prisoner

Of the presently nine individual photos below, I am 99 per cent sure that the sixth figure is a re-issue, and the third and fourth might be re-issues.

For you Wild West fans like me, I've always thought the seated woman would make a good lady-of-the-night for a Wild West town!
Figures in gray
Photo courtesy of Rick Koch, Ebay ID toy-hood

The photo of figures in tan below is missing one figure.  (You can have the fun of figuring out which one!)

Figures in tan
Photo courtesy of Rick Koch, Ebay toy-hood

Gladiator with short sword and round shield Roman standing with box, left arm out Roman with whip Charioteer with whip overhead

Gladiator with sword and square shield Gladiator with sword and round shield
Gladiator on knees
(probably a re-issue)

Spectator yelling Woman carrying jug on head Male spectator, sitting with left hand up

Recent Price Lines I have noticed
Unopened bag of 14 figures $295 February 2012 Ebay
Full set of 16 $158 May 2013 Ebay one figure has molding error
Gray set of 16 shown above $71 June 2013 Ebay
Tan set of 15 shown above $71 June 2013 Ebay



Structures


  The Coliseum

The multi-piece coliseum in hard plastic includes
The coliseum generally came in gray, but PFPC Issue 14 notes that in the smallest of the three sets, it came in white with gray and black swirls that gave the structure a marble look.  When assembled, the coliseum is 18 inches wide and 8 inches high.

In addition, a variety of small plastic standards are included to decorate the seating sections.  There are seven different standards, and they came in red and yellow.
Coliseum with curved and straight bleacher sections
Standards placed into small holes in bleacher sections
Photo courtesy of Rick Koch, Ebay ID toy-hood
 
Examples of standards
Photo courtesy of Wayne, Ebay ID newbackpondtoys
Clips to hold coliseum and bleachers in place
Photo courtesy of Rick Koch, Ebay ID toy-hood

  The Market Place (PL-1035, -1035A, and 1035B)

Playset Magazine points out that the ideas for a bazaar and slave market probably came directly from the movie, which includes scenes at such locations.  Both pieces are beautifully done, but the pieces are easy to break and now hard to find in good shape.  Pieces came in a pinkish salmon and pastel blue (though seen as gray in the photos below).
Fruit Stand
Photo courtesy of Rick Koch, Ebay ID toy-hood

Slave Market
Photo courtesy of Rick Koch, Ebay ID toy-hood




Small Accessories  
(PL-1032)

This 18-piece group includes 14 separate items made in tan and blue, according to Playset Magazine.  Photos below suggest that they were also made in gray.  Again, although I do not yet have individual photos of all these items, each of them are pictured below.  As often, the mold included more than one of some items.

The accessories  include

1.    lounge chair
2.    curved arm chair
3, 4.   broken wheels (Thanks to collector Josh Petrie for pointing out to me that the two wheels are different, one with the stub of one broken spoke left on it and the other with three broken spokes on it.)
5, 6, and 7.  Three different busts on columns
8.    urn
9.    empty basket
10.    basket with fruit
11.  brazier with three legs
12.  donkey
13.  fountain with lion head
14.  wooden push cart (no, do not try to make donkey pull the cart!)

My personal favorite in this group is the fountain.  I keep thinking that it would be a good piece for a Wild West set in some quiet Mexican village!
Accessories in blue
Photo courtesy of Rick Koch, Ebay ID toy-hood
Accessories in tan
Photo courtesy of Rick Koch, Ebay ID toy-hood

Columns with busts
Photo courtesy of Wayne, Ebay ID newbackpondtoys
Donkey
Photo courtesy of Rick Koch, Ebay ID toy-hood

Lounge chair
Photo courtesy of Wayne, Ebay ID newbackpondtoys
Jugs
Photo courtesy of Wayne, Ebay ID newbackpondtoys
Fruit basket
Photo courtesy of Wayne, Ebay ID newbackpondtoys
Basket
Photo courtesy of Wayne, Ebay ID newbackpondtoys

Hand Cart
Photo courtesy of Rick Koch, Ebay ID toy-hood
Broken wheels (two different)
Thanks to collector Ross Petrie for pointing out to me that the two wheels are different!




Tent Accessories  (PL-1095)

This accessory group includes multi-piece tents, as well as various other small related items shown below.  According to Playset Magazine, the set's tent accessories represent the camp of the sheik who provided Ben Hur horses for the chariot race, the signature scene in the movie.  The sheik and his people, however, are not in the set; one needs to buy a Marx Captain Gallant playset to get those!  

In the Ben Hur set, all pieces in the group come in red or white.  Those shown individually below are from a Captain Gallant Playset, which includes these same items, but in purple and yellow.  At the bottom of this section are two photos of some items in red and white from Rick Koch.  I welcome your individual photos of these items in red and white!
Tent
Photo courtesy of Toy Soldiers of San Diego (TSSD)

Photo not available at this time.
Tent awning
Photo courtesy of Toy Soldiers of San Diego (TSSD)
Support poles for awning Partial sprue of tent points
Photo courtesy of Toy Soldiers of San Diego (TSSD)

Ben Hur tent pieces in red and white
Photo courtesy of Rick Koch, Ebay ID toy-hood

Table
Notice the intricate etching on the table top.
Hassock Tied bundle
Photos courtesy of Toy Soldiers of San Diego (TSSD)

Jewel chest Pillow
Photos courtesy of Toy Soldiers of San Diego (TSSD)

Photo not available at this time.
Hookah Oil lamp Incense burner Fire pot
Photos courtesy of Toy Soldiers of San Diego (TSSD)

Tent accessories in red and white
Photos courtesy of Rick Koch, Ebay ID toy-hood




Chariots

Of course, the chariots were the focal point of the playset for any kid setting it up.  No matter that the coliseum was only about a quarter of an oval, any kid's chariot race covered a full-circle track, probably winding under chairs, over a coffee table, and perhaps even into the next room.  The chariot bodies were all the same, with 4-horse hitches molded onto the body.  They came in red, yellow, and blue.  A metal axle and two wheels snapped into place beneath the body.

Ornamentation for the chariots came in three styles: eagle, lion, and columns, with the columns behing the style that Ben Hur drove in the movie.  They came in the same three colors as the chariots and snapped onto the front of any color chariot body.  Each of the three chariot styles is shown below.

Overall, they are attractive and popular among collectors today.  However, they are also fragile, and most went through a number of races and/or wars staged by kids of the 1960's.  So they are very difficult to find today, especially in good shape.

Nice re-issues are available.  

Chariots with all accessories attached
Photos courtesy of Rick Koch, Ebay ID toy-hood




Animals

  Chariot horses  (PL-865)

The horses below are often called Ben Hur horses and were used for the sets' chariots.  However, they were first used in the company's Wild West playsets in 1957 or 1958.  They fit perfectly in a chariot hitch, but like the Wild West wagon hitch problems, they are a bit tight to get into the hitch.  As a result, hitches were often broken pushing them in.  Be very careful if you are putting a horse into an unbroken hitch!  If you have a horse already in a hitch, I strongly suggest you do not try to take him (or her) out of it.

Note that a donkey also came in the set, but it was included as part of the small accessory group above.
Ben Hur horse running Ben Hur horse stopping

  Wild Animals

And, of course, the gladiators needed a few wild animals to fight.  The lion and tiger were apparently made specifically for this set and are exceptionally well-done.  They came in a brown orange and beige.
Lion
Photo courtesy of Rick Koch, Ebay ID toy-hood
Tiger
Photo courtesy of Rick Koch, Ebay ID toy-hood




The Catapult

One final item included in the Ben Hur Playset was a catapult.  Frankly, I was uncertain why the set would include catapults, but a few of you guys have informed me that catapults were used in an ocean battle early in the film.  Still, with the catapults, perhaps Marx should have created some barbarian figures, adjusted the set contents somewhat, and released a Fall of the Roman Empire playset!

Well, these things certainly gave the kids an additional item to make havoc with.  And I'm sure that those who ended up with the big set #4701 were thrilled to find three of them in the box!

The catapults operate with a rubber band and come with a set of 24 little plastic rocks, which most definitely were quickly lost once removed from the sprue.  But no problem for the kids, because I'm sure they could find plenty of other things to use as ammunition (marbles, nuts, real rocks, etc.).  Of course, us collectors want those plastic rocks, and they are hard to find!

Ben Hur catapults and rocks were brown; wheels were yellow.

A bit more information and more photos on the the Marx catapults is included on the Medieval Accessories page of this web site.
Photo not available at this time.
Catapult with plastic rocks
Photo courtesy of Rick Koch, Ebay ID toy-hood
Sprue of 24 rocks




Other Roman Empire Figures

Although Ben Hur was the only playset that Marx made of the Roman Empire, the company did produce a few other figures of Roman soldiers.  These were 1) approximately 60mm, hard plastic figures in the Warriors of the World (WOW) series that was manufactured in Hong Kong, 2) soft plastic figures made in the early 1960s as part of the 6-inch figure series, and 3) painted 6-inch figures from the GoldMarx series.

WOW Roman Warriors


Warriors of the World figures -- made in dozens of different themes -- came in small boxes, similar to the window box at the right.  The figure in the box to the left is shown in a larger photo below.  WOW figures were given fictional names and short biographies, written on a card that came inside the box.  In some cases, the figures were sold together as a boxed set.  Though similar to playset figures, they were not included in any Marx playset.  The centurion with the banner is surely one of the tallest WOW figures at about 3-1/2 inches.




Photo not available - we would welcome yours!
1.  Marius, with sword and oval shield 2.  Maximus, sword raised with rectangular shield and arm guard
Photo not available - we would welcome yours!
3.  Tiberius, crouched with sword and rectangular shield  4.  Laelius, standing guard with spear
5.  Marcus Gaius, crouched with sword and whip 6.  Flavius Stilecho, centurion with banner
Photo not available - we would welcome yours!
7.  Septimus Pius, throwing spear with shield raised
Front and back
8.  Gaius, attacking with sword, oval shield raised



6-inch Roman Warriors

Plastic Figure and Playset Collector magazine had two multi-page articles on Marx 6-inch figure groups, one in 1990 and another in 2001.  The second was in veteran collector Rich Koch's column.  Interestingly, neither of them mentioned 6-inch Roman Warrior figures.  However, since such GoldMarx figures exist (see the section below) and GoldMarx figures generally use the same mold as the 6-inch figures, I must assume that the company did sell soft plastic, 6-inch Roman Warriors.  Or at least I must assume this until told otherwise.  Please let me know if I am wrong.
Photo not available - we would welcome yours! Photo not available - we would welcome yours!
1.  Throwing spear with shield raised 2.  Standing with sword and oval shield
Photo not available - we would welcome yours! Photo not available - we would welcome yours!
3.  Crouched with sword and whip  4.  Centurion with banner
Photo not available - we would welcome yours! Photo not available - we would welcome yours!
5.  Advancing with sword raised and with rectangular shield and arm guard 6.  Crouched with sword and rectangular shield


GoldMarx Roman Warriors

GoldMarx were, for the most part, the 6-inch figures made in hard plastic and painted.  The painting was done well, much better that for any other painted Marx figure.  Recessed printing under the base helps to identify the figures as GoldMarx, and not a figure that has been painted by a collector.  

According to Plastic Figure and Playset Collector magazine, Issue 23, page 5, Marx released two versions of its GoldMarx Romans.  One version had names for each figure printed on the bottom of the base, the same names as used for six of the WOW figures.  The other version had no names and a different painting scheme.

I have numbered them below as shown in Marx' 1964 dealer catalog, pictured in the PFPC magazine.  


Photo not available - we would welcome yours!
1.  Throwing spear with shield raised
Spear is molded separately and inserted into ring hand
2.  Standing with sword and oval shield
3.  Crouched with sword and whip 4.  Centurion with banner
Photo not available - we would welcome yours!
5.  Advancing with sword raised and with rectangular shield and arm guard 6.  Crouched with sword and rectangular shield

Contents of this web site may not be reproduced or duplicated for use on the Internet or for commercial purposes without permission by Eric Johns.