Marx tin litho playsets reissuedBy Mark Chervenka
Marx tin litho playsets reissued
Original Marx playsets are among the most complex and elaborate toys ever made for a middle class market. From accessory pieces as small as 3/16" artillery shells to buildings and bases up to 24" plus action figures, many original playsets included 200-400+ pieces.
Original sets were produced from about 1949 to around 1976. Many were based on popular 1950-60s television shows and movies like "The Untouchables", "Yogi Bear Jellystone Park", "Zorro", "Ben Hur", "Davy Crockett" and "Robin Hood". Other less glamorous subjects but still good selling sets included gas stations, farms, airports, army themes of all kinds, and cowboys and Indians. The variety is amazing. In Collecting Toy Soldiers by Richard O'Brien, over 550 different Marx sets are listed. Most 1950-60s sets originally sold for about $5 to $10.
The complexity of the playsets and their tie-ins with television and movie characters make them highly sought after by a cross-over of buyers. Although interest in the playsets and prices were rising steadily since the late 1980s, reproductions were mostly limited to some plastic human figures.
In 1997, copies of Marx metal buildings began to appear. The new metal buildings were then combined with new plastic figures and new plastic accessories and packaged in boxed sets just like originals (Fig. 1). There are four new playsets that were sold with lithographed metal pieces. They are: Davy Crocket at the Alamo, Fort Apache, Sears Service Station and Cape Canaveral.
Identifying new metal buildings, accessories
Examining metal pieces from the new Davy Crockett playset highlights the basic differences between new and old metal in all the sets. First, look for the original Marx trademark on the metal (Fig. 6). Virtually without exception, the lithographed metal used in original pre-1970 playsets should include "Made in United States of America". Most, but not all trademarks on metal also include "New York, NY". All the new metal so far is made overseas, mainly China, and only carries a generic "Marx Toys" only trademark. Also look for names of additional license or copyright holders on the metal (Figs. 3-4). Not all original metal pieces were marked; so far, every piece of new metal we have seen has the new trademark.
Use marks only to evaluate metal buildings but NOT plastic figures and accessories. Most plastic pieces with the new sets are made from original molds many of which have old appearing dates and trademarks (Fig. 9). Generally, the designs on new metal are less sharp than on originals (Figs. 10-11).
Flags in most original playsets like Ft. Apache and Alamo were made of metal with a design printed on both sides. Flags in the new playsets we have seen are adhesive backed paper printed on a single side. You need to bend the paper in the middle to get a two sided flag.
Original boxes were opened along the long dimension and were hinged like a toy chest (Fig. 2). The new boxes we have seen open at the ends with flaps.
The biggest problem is that parts and pieces of old and new are going to be mixed together. Since a complete playset with most of its contents is worth about two to three times that of a set with only half or less of its pieces, there is strong temptation to "load up" or "marry" new and old.
Due to the huge number of sets made many variations exist. There were at least 40 versions of authetic Fort Apache playsets; 12 or more authentic Cape Cananveral sets. If you want to collect Marx playsets, be aware that both plastic and metal versions are being reproduced. Study and learn what markings, pieces and assortments were offered in the original playsets.