Marx Lane

An Inventory of American Wild West Playset Figures, Structures, and Accessories
Manufactured by the Marx Toy Company, 1951 to 1980
  

Introduction - Information on the Marx Toy Company
     and Its Wild West Playset Figures

This web site was created in late 2007.  It consists of six web pages:  this introductory page, three pages on The Marx Toy Company's figures of cowboys, Indians, and other figures included in its wild west playsets; a page on forts, structures, and buildings in those playsets; and a page on animals in the playsets.  Eventually, I expect to add another page on playset accessories.  I will continue to update these pages as I obtain more information and photos.  If you have anything to add to this page or suggestions to make it better, please e-mail me at ericjohns@roadrunner.com.  I will be glad to attribute contributions to you.

Some rather significant changes have been made to this web site recently.  If you find problems -- such as links that do not work -- please let me know by e-mailing me at ericjohns@roadrunner.com.  Thank you!


Most recent significant updates to this web site:
12-20-08    As you know if you are reading this, the web site has moved to http://marxwildwest.com.  At the same time, several new photos have been added to the Horses, Cattle, and Other Animals page.
11-24-08   Added a new page this web site, featuring animals that were included in Marx wild west playsets.  You may go to this new page by clicking here or by clicking on the link at the bottom of this page.  Links to related horses are also included in each group of figures.  Also added photos of Bernardo and Don Diego in the Zorro character figure group on Page 2 and photos of two additional 3-inch figures on Page 3.
10-29-08  Added 16 photos of cowboy and Indian figures made in Great Britain on Page 3
.
10-18-08  Added photos and information to 45mm rodeo cowboys near end of Page 3.
10-1-08    Added several photos of figures and accessories purchased from OTSN last week.  These include the original Buffalo Bill and Kit Carson from the 60mm Famous Americans, a photo showing exceptional detail on the 54mm Zorro Don Alejandro, the original 54mm Johnny Ringo (figure provided by Rick Eber), and the complete plastic John Wayne Alamo gate.  

Marx information news briefs:
I attended the big Chicago Toy Soldier Show for the third straight year and found it to be as busy and enjoyable as always, even with the major renovation going on at the hotel.  Having been seriously in the hobby now for six years, I am starting to know several sellers and other collectors and always enjoy seeing what they have to sell this year.  As well as just seeing them again and saying "hi", of course.  I purchased a several small items, a few to go on this web site (see 10-1-08 entry above), but stayed right on my $222 budget ($22 saved in pennies, nickles, and dimes)...until I saw Ron Barzso's new Daniel Boone Playset.  I had not purchased an entire playset since the mid-1950s when I was a kid.  Having concentrated my collecting primarily in the American wild west, I simply could not resist this one.  I purchased both the playset and the separate fort that goes along with it.  As always, Ron's work is downright spectacular, and it feels good to own such a beautiful playset, even if I did exceed my budget by about $500!

For the second straight year, I attended the Marx Convention at the Krueger Toy and Train Museum in Wheeling, West Virginia.  If you are a Marx playset fan, I cannot think that there is a better show.  Held on June 20 and 21, this was the museum's 10th annual convention.  There were a huge variety of Marx figures and playsets for sale, and I found prices to be more reasonable that most Ebay auctions over the past few months.  For example, I purchased the four 6-inch stage coach figures shown below for $2 each, several 35mm figures in great shape for $2 or $3 each, and a beautifully-marbled hill with cave for $15 (now shown on my Wild West Structures and Terrain Pieces web page).  While there, I also spent some money at Francis Turner's sale Friday evening, salivating over a nice Daniel Boone Wilderness playset priced at $975 and a Blue and Gray playset whose price now escapes me.



Table of Contents
(click on category to move to section or page)
On This Page
Comments on This Web Site Brief History of Louis Marx and The Marx Toy Company Background Information on Marx Playset Figures
On Other Pages
Page 1 - 45mm and 60mm Figures
Page 2 - 54mm Figures
Page 3 - Larger Figures, Figures Made Overseas, and Other Figures
Page 4 - Horses, Cattle, and Other Animals
Page 5 - Wild West Forts, Structures, and Terrain Pieces


Comments on This Web Site

     This web site provides photos and general information on Marx' wild west playset figures, for the most part organized by date of initial sale.  It includes this and three other web pages, which can be reached by links at the top of bottom of this page.  There is an additional web page on the company's wild west buildings and terrain pieces, and a link is at the bottom of this page to access it, as well as a few other web pages on my collection and a bit on other aspects of my life (if you care to see what we look like!).
     
     Wherever possible, each group of figures is identified by "PL" number.  
This number designates the mold that Marx used to manufacture the figures.  I have attempted to make this inventory as complete and accurate as possible.  However, I cannot guarantee that all my information is totally accurate or that I am aware of all figures that exist.  I welcome any information that might add to or correct information on this web site.

     The figures in the photos on these web pages are not all in pristine condition.  Some have small scuffs, bite marks, nicks, discoloring, or flashing from the molding process.  If you are a serious collector, I am sure you have seen it all.  In addition, a few of the photos are of re-issued figures or copies, and are identified as such.  However, to the best of my knowledge, the figures in the photos have no missing parts, unless noted, and the photos provide a good representation of what the figures should look like.  I will be updating photos as I obtain better and missing figures.  At the same time, I welcome similar photos from you of figures I do not have and will be glad to give you credit for them.  

     For the most part, the information on this web page is not original.  I have drawn on numerous sources to obtain the information.  These include issues of the former magazine "Plastic Figure and Playset Collector" (PFPC) edited by Tom Terry, "Playset Magazine" edited by Rusty and Kathy Kern, Great Britain's "Plastic Warrior" magazine edited by Paul Morehead, the Guide for Non-Metallic Toy Soldiers of the U.S. by Tim Geppert, Richard O'Brien's book Collecting American-Made Toy Soldiers, and Jay Horowitz' book The Authorized Guide to Marx Western Playsets.  I have also received much information through discussions and correspondence with many toy soldier collectors, including such experts as Kent Sprecher, Francis Turner, Bob Jones, Rich Egan, Rick Eber, Paul Stadinger, Dan McClean, Bob Wilson, Steve Smith, Mike Handley, Bob Lancellotti, Rob Colwell, and many others.   In addition, several of these persons have web sites that have also given me much information and many points to ponder.  For a more complete list of sources, see my links page.

     A special thanks goes to Kent Sprecher for providing a list of PL numbers for most of the molds with brief information on each of them, as well as for the incredible amount of information on his exceptional web site.

     Please contact me if you find errors on this web page, have photos to share which are not included here, or have information that might be appropriate to add.  My e-mail is ericjohns@roadrunner.com and my telephone is 714-996-6229.


A Quick History of Louis Marx and Louis Marx & Co., Inc.
      (aka The Marx Toy Company)


    Louis Marx started his toy company in 1921 -- coincidentally the same year my father was born -- with his brother David, using equipment purchased from his former employer, the Ferdinand Strauss Toy Company.  The company grew through the 1940s, with the bulk of its sales being mass-produced tin lithograhed toys.

     In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Marx and other toy companies introduced toy playsets that included figures, buildings, and related accessories such as animals, trees, wagons, and furniture.  These toys were manufactured with new injection molding techniques developed during World War II.  Each playset was created around a theme, such as a farm, an airport, a gas station, or a military base.  One of the earliest and most popular themes was the American wild west.  The popularity of these playsets among children resulted in a "playset era" that continued into the 1970s.

     Figures in the earliest playsets were molded in a rubber-like vinyl and were crudely sculpted with little detail.  Within a few years, Marx changed to a soft plastic material, which allowed much more realistic figures.  Buildings were generally made of pressed steel (though commonly called tin) and accessories of hard plastic.  Some accessories were made of soft plastic.

     Figures in playsets were not painted; they were the color of the material used to produce them.  Marx mixed the material into many shades of yellow, brown, blue, red, gray, and other colors, including an off-white that Marx referred to as ivory.  Marx did sell some similar figures -- or in some cases the same figures -- that were painted, but except for a few miniature sets, these were not included in playsets.

     With the playsets as their backbone, the Marx Toy Company became the largest toy company in the world by the 1950s.  Mr. Marx maintained his offices in New York City, but the company's factories were located in both the U.S. and overseas.  He became known as "The Toy King," appeared on the cover of "Time Magazine," and was a close friend of President Dwight Eisenhower.

     Mr. Marx sold the company to the Quaker Oats Company in 1972.  Unfortunately, many key Marx employees left the company at that same time, and Quaker Oats was unable to maintain Marx' extraordinary toy empire.  In 1975, the company was sold to Sir Richard Beecham of the toy conglomerate Dunbee-Combex of England, which ultimately filed for bankruptcy in 1980.  Liquidation of the remaining Marx Toy Company assets began in 1980 and was completed by Chemical Bank, the company's primary creditor, two years later.  Marx toy assets were purchased by Jay Horowitz and his company, American Plastic Equipment, Inc.  Subsequently, most playset and action figure prototypes were sold to Chuck Saults (several thousands), while a smaller amount went to Gene Scala (a few hundred).  Mr. Saults has since passed away, and his incredible collection was auctioned off on eBay over a period of more than a year.

     Since that time, many people -- including Mr. Marx' son -- have used some of the old Marx molds to manufacture figures.  However, these re-issued figures are usually (but not always) easily distinguishable from the original figures, and collectors are quick to point out that they do not meet the quality of original Marx figures.
 
     Mr. Marx died in 1982 at age 85.

      The Authorized Guide to Marx Western Playsets by Jay Horowitz contains excellent chapters on the life of Mr. Marx and on the evolution of Louis Marx & Co, Inc.  Similar information, much of it based on interviews with former Marx employees, is included in a series of "Inside Marx" articles written by Rusty Kern, which appeared in "Plastic Figure and Playset Collector" magazine.
  
 

Additional Background on Marx Playset Figures

       Marx produced figures in many sizes, and information on this web site indicates the generally-accepted scale for each group of figures.  
The most common scales that Marx used for its wild west figures are 45mm, 54mm, and 60mm.  These numbers represent the approximate scale height of a 6-foot tall person.  Thus, in 45mm scale, this person would be about 1-3/4 inches tall, in 54mm scale 2-1/8 inches tall, and in 60mm scale 2-3/8 inches.  Some references show these inch measurements slightly different, but if you put a ruler with millimeters next to one with inches, that is how they come out.  

     While those are the most common scales for Marx wild west figures, they also produced figures as small as HO-scale and as large as 6-inch.   Interestingly, Marx employees actually did not use these scales, but rather saw the figures simply as large, small, etc.  Collectors have assigned the scales to the groups.  Photos on this web site do not show figures actual size, but for the most part I have tried to show figures in the same relative size when compared to others.  Exceptions to this include:


In addition, I have included a section of Marx fence behind the figures in most photos.  This fence is approximately 1-1/2 inches tall at the top of the top rail, and the back of each figure is very close to the fence, generally within 1/4 inch.

     The company used two materials to produce its playset figures.  In the early 1950s, it used vinyl, advertised as a rubber-like material.  In the mid-1950s, the company changed to a soft plastic.  To verify whether a figure is vinyl or soft plastic, place it in a bowl of water.  If it sinks, it is vinyl; if it floats it is plastic.  In addition, vinyl has a distintive smell.  Place a figure that you know is vinyl near your nose and you will see what I mean.  It's not a pleasant smell, but for those of us who had vinyl figures as children, it's a familiar and memory-jogging odor.  

     Marx used hard plastic for many of its playset accessories such as furniture and trees, but did not use hard plastic for figures, except for
a very few, which are pointed out in the narrative below.  None of these were included in a traditional Marx playset.  Otherwise, figures that you find made of hard plastic -- including those made using Marx molds after the company went bankrupt -- are not original Marx figures.  Of course, there are degrees of soft and hard.  I do not understand the chemistry of plastic, but I know that Marx' early soft plastic figures are more soft than those made later.  And some hard plastic is less hard than other hard plastic.  Personally, I find it sometimes very difficult or even impossible to tell the difference between the more hard soft plastic of original Marx figures and the more soft hard plastic of some post-Marx figures.  If you feel confused, welcome to the world of collecting Marx figures.

     Marx used a wide variety of colors for its wild west figures, such as yellow and brown.  And for each color, figures exist in a number of shades, such as powder blue, royal blue, and metallic blue.  I find it very difficult to pick up a figure and state what color and shade it is, and sometimes am uncertain even what color it is.  This may sound odd, but I know that some other collectors experience the same problem.  Placing a figure side-by-side with a figure of another color sometimes helps.  But I would go so far as to say that at this point in my collecting, I am befuddled in my frustrating attempt to understand Marx' use of colors.

     To the best of my knowledge, the basic colors used by Marx for wild west figures were ivory (called cream by collectors today), brown, tan, yellow, gray, silver, blue, and red.  The only exceptions that I am aware of are frontiersman figures made in a fuzzy green color for its Fort Comanche playset and a bright orange for the Indians in a late Fort Apache playset.  While I refer to those green frontiersmen as fuzzy because the color tends to hide the figure details, Marx simply called them green, some collectors call them pea green, and others call them lime green.  This name game -- more than one name for the same color -- is another reason that I remain confused.  Figures used in many different playsets were often manufactured in many different colors, though only in one or two colors per group of figures for each playset.  Others that were not manufactured in such great numbers -- such as "character figures" of actual persons or recognized fictional characters -- were only made in one or two colors.  Almost all of the "character figures" (i.e., Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger, Wyatt Earp, etc.) were produced almost exclusively in cream.

     While a general rule is that you should clean the dirt off your figures (to see what color they really are), dirt is not always a bad thing.  I have several time hesitated or decided not to clean a figure because the small amount of grime on it enhances the color and adds depth to the figure.
 Never under-estimate the power of dirt.  It is hard to explain this, so I can only use the old cliche and say, "You'll know it when you see it."  Take a look at the 5-inch stagecoach group for an example of such figures.


     Many Marx figures have been re-issued or copied.  A re-issue (or recast) figure is one that has been made from the same mold that Marx used to make the original figure.  Many original molds have been purchased or leased by many different companies since the company went bankrupt.  For serious collectors, it would be nice to have a list of what molds still exist, where they have been since Marx closed, what figures have been re-issued, and where they are now.  I do not have the knowledge to create such a list, though I do know that Hobby Bunker acquired a large inventory of them in 2007 and has been re-issuing many figures and accessories since then.  Classic Toy Soldiers has re-issued several different groups of wild west figures for many years, and the hordes of lesser quality re-issued and copied figures from Mexico seem unending.  

     A copy is a figure that has been made to look the same as a Marx figure, but has been manufacured using a mold created by someone other than The Marx Toy Company.  Even while Marx was in its heyday, competing companies such as MPC were creating figures based on the Marx figure poses, though with some experience it generally is not difficult to tell them apart.  Often, original figures are used to create a mold to make a copy.  If so, the copy will be slightly smaller than the Marx original figure, perhaps two or three millimeters.  

     Often -- but not always -- re-issues and copies are made in a hard plastic never used by Marx.  Often -- but not always -- re-issues and copies are made in colors never used by Marx.  For example, if you have a wild west figure that is bright green, black, purple, or true pink, it is not original Marx.  Some re-issues and copies are easy to spot; others are better made and are difficult to identify except by experienced collectors.  A few are so close to the originals that it is almost impossible for anyone to tell the difference between them and the Marx originals.  

     All prices noted on this web site are for information purposes only and should not serve as a price guide.  The prices given are simply what I have observed, and I have not attempted to calculate any accurate average prices for figures.  I am sure that you will find the figures selling for more and for less than those prices I cite.  There are many factors that affect prices, including condition of a figure, color, the estimated number of figures originally made, the perceived supply still available, the reputation of the seller, and how much the guy in Montana is willing to pay for exactly the same figure you want, which happens to be the only figure that he needs to complete his five-thousand dollar Marx playset.  Of course, the sad fact is that it is common to pay more for a single figure today that it originally cost for an entire playset fifty years ago.  If you are new to the hobby, that's something you just have to get used to if you want to collect anything more than the most common figure.  

     Finally, a personal observation based on my collecting experience since I began taking this hobby seriously in 2002.  There are Marx figures...and then there are Marx figures.  You will see a figure that you deem excellent, and then you will see another identical figure that just blows you away.  You will see a near mint figure that looks nice, and then see the same figure that clearly is not mint, but looks more attractive than the mint one.  

     There are several reasons for this.  Color is one.  Another is the material used for a particular figure, with even separate batches of vinyl or plastic not being exactly the same.  Perhaps another is the expertise and care of the workers that participated in manufacturing a specific figure or group of figures.  However, I believe a very key reason is that molds used in making figures wear down as they are used over and over.  As they do so, they are cleaned, washed, and repaired.  
I imagine that these processes extend the life of the mold, but cannot return it to its original pristine condition.  As a result, you will find some original Marx figures with fine, sharp details and other original Marx figures that have slightly more blurred and softened details.

     So there are some extremely fine examples of Marx playset figures out there that most likely were manufactured when a mold was still new, the color was right, and the batch of vinyl or plastic mixed well.  When you see these, you cannot help but say, "Wow!"  There are also figures in good condition on which the details are less vibrant; these cause you to perhaps say, "That's a nice figure," or, "I have one of those already."  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that second category of figures, but just something that is wise to keep in mind.

     I hope you enjoy both this web site and hobby!

Go to top of page


Page 1 - 45mm and 60mm Figures
Page 2 - 54mm Figures
Page 3 - Larger Figures, Marx Figures Made Overseas, and Other Figures
Page 4 - Horses, Cattle, and Other Animals
Page 5 - Forts, Structures, and Terrain Pieces

Free Counters from SimpleCount.com
Web Counters

Vicki and Eric Johns' Home Page