Marx Lane
An Inventory of American Wild West Playset Figures, Structures and
Accessories Manufactured by the Marx Toy Company, 1951 to 1980
Addendum L-1 - Circus
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Character Figures
Performers, Circus Workers, and a Few Customers
Circus Tents
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Marx produced circus playsets under two names: Big Top Circus and Super Circus.  Big Top Circus was first sold in the early 1950s by Montgomery Ward.  Playset Magazine Issue 64 suggests that it was introduced at the same time as Super Circus sets,  but the actual timing is uncertain.  It did appear in Ward's Christmas 1952 catalog, but may have been available earlier that year.  According to Plastic Figure and Playset Collector (PFPC) magazine Issue 12, the Big Top set was based on the one-hour CBS television circus variety show that ran from July 1950 to September 1957.  One of the show's stars was "Ed the Clown," who later gained fame as Johnny Carson's late night announcer and close friend.

The company introduced its Super Circus in the 1952 Sears Christmas catalog.  It too, according to PFPC, was based on a television show, an ABC version that ran from January 1949 to June 1956.  One of the Super Circus sets (#4320) included the character figures shown below, which represent headliners from the television show.

 Other than the character figures in the one Super Circus playset, the two versions were populated by the same 45mm figures.  Figures in playsets were made in yellow or red brown vinyl.  You can find some in other colors, such as the blue figures and red monkeys shown below, which were sold in separate figure sets.

When you talk about the number of poses in a playset, you can't beat the circus.  There are 35 poses of performers, various circus workers, and customers, plus the five Super Circus character figures.  Of course this was one of Marx' earliest playsets, so -- except for the character figures -- the sculpting is often crude with little detail.  A few of them are even manufactured almost two-dimensionally, obviously in order to save costs (see side
views of the fat lady and the standing elephant at left).

Accessories were also pretty much identical, though lithography on the tin litho items -- such as the circus tent, sideshow stages, and flags -- had similar but different lithography.  

On the other hand,
the character figures match up well with some of the company's best sculpting, and the poses cover just about every aspect of a circus.  The character figure of Mary Hartline is one of the most attractive females in any Marx playset (and the hula girl looks pretty good too!).

Personally, I well recall buying the Super Circus Play Set in Dallas during the mid-1950s while on a trip to visit my aunt there.  I was fascinated by it, but remember laughing at the flat fat lady.  I gave one of the fat ladies to my younger sister as a gag gift one recent Christmas, and she immediately knew what it was.  That tells you how much Marx toys meant to us kids way back then.

The Marx circus sets were featured in Playset Magazine Issue 64 and PFPC Issue 12.  This page was updated in February 2017 with assistance from Kent Sprecher's web site on Marx circus playsets.
Recent Price Lines I have noticed for complete or near complete circus playsets in good condition
Super Circus $395 March 2012 Ebay 3 figures missing, otherwise excellent

Character Figures

These five cream-colored figures came on in the larger Super Circus Playset, #4320.  They seem to be readily available today, so they may also have been sold as a separate figure set.  The set is generally available in good condition today for $25.
1.  Ringmaster Claude Kirchner 2.  Mary Hartline, Circus Queen 3.  Cliffy Clown

4.  Scampy Clown 5.  Nicky Clown
Performers, Circus Workers, and a Few Customers  (PL-367 and -409)

Figures in the two sets are the same 35 poses, but colors are not the same, according to Playset Magazine.  In the Big Top set, all figures are yellow; in the Super Circus about half are yellow and half in what Playset Magazine calls "copper."  Early sets had figures made of the rubber-like vinyl that Marx used for its initial playsets, but by the mid-1950s the figures were plastic.  There are a total of 38 people, because three of the "poses" include two people.

Several of the figures are formed to interact with other figures or accessories.  These include the trapeze artists, female riders sitting on an elephant and standing on a horse, a pop corn vendor with the pop corn machine, and a security guard stopping a boy who is trying to sneak into the circus.

As shown in the photos below, figures also came in blue, but these probably were sold in circus header bags, separate from playsets.
1.  Ringmaster 2.  Juggler 3.  Sword swallower

4. Female acrobat, standing 5.  Strongman 6.  Mrs. Tiny Tim   7.  Mr.
Tiny Tim

8.  Policeman clown 9.  Man on stilts 10.  Clown with hole in hat

11.  Prancing clown 12.  Clown with umbrella 13.  Ticket seller

14.  Male trapeeze artist 15.  Female trapeeze artist

16.  Male trapeeze artist 17.  Female trapeeze artist

18.  Tight rope walker 19.  Woman riding horse

20.  Barrel juggler 21.  Elephant rider

22.  Elephant trainer 23.  Lion trainer 24.  Snake charmer

25.  Hawaiian dancer 26.  Female dancer 27.  Fat lady

28.  Siamese twins 29.  Popcorn man 30.  Balloon man

31.  Man with crying son 32.  Woman with daughter

33.  Boy caught by policeman trying to sneak into circus 34.  Policeman 35.  Water boy

     Unproduced figures

Playset Magazine Issue 64 has photos of three rare Marx circus figures with ring hands.  These were intended to be able to stand on the sets' high wires, balancing with weights wedged into their hands.  These include male and female trapeze artists and a clown.  According to the magazine article, Marx factory documentation from 1954 shows that a smaller circus set #4306 was to have included these figures.  There is no evidence that this set was ever produced, but the article notes that the figures have occasionally been offered for sale.  I have never seen these figures and have no photos of them.


Similar to the large number of performer figures, Marx provided 28 animal poses that provide almost anything that would be in a circus (and some that were not...a buffalo and alligator?).  Elephants, the big cats, seals balancing balls...not much is left out.  Perhaps the favorite among most collectors is the group of six cavorting monkeys, which come with a 3-piece set of monkey bars.

The information here earlier did not indicate any mold numbers or breakdowns for these figures.  Based on information from veteran seller/collector Kent Sprecher, as of February 2017 they are shown below as they were produced in three molds: one for the monkeys, one circus animal mold, and one wild animal mold.

Animals in circus playsets were usually gray or red brown.  The red monkeys below were sold as a figure group, not in a playset.  Many of the animals -- the six monkeys especially -- are not scaled to fit with the human figures, but then it is doubtful that many kids cared about such things.  The Monkeys were also used in Jungle and Pet Shop playsets, and the Wild Animals were used in Jungle playsets, usually with four new animals replacing the four non-jungle animals in the mold.  The figures also were sold as figure groups in header bags, most often in a light green or gray color.
The red monkeys below also were sold as a figure group, not in a playset.   

The figures produced in the early 1950s were made in the rubber-like vinyl that Marx used for its initial playsets, but by the mid-1950s figures were made of plastic.  The animal poses provide plenty of interaction with the performers and accessories.  The lion tamer has his big cats, the elephant man and female rider have their elephants, the bareback rider has her horse, and a bear and gorilla have their paws in a position to hold whatever a kid wishes them to.  The sitting elephant and trained dogs have small risers to sit on.  And the monkeys can be positioned on the monkey bars in an infinite number of ways.

     Monkeys  (PL-361)  
1.  Monkey on all fours, tail down
2.  Monkey on all fours, tail up 3.  Monkey sitting, arms out to sides
4.  Monkey hanging by two hands 5.  Monkey hanging, one arm forward and one arm back 6.  Monkey hanging by all fours
Monkeys on the monkey bars

     Circus Animals (PL-408)
1.  Elephant sitting 2.  Elephant walking 3.  Elephant howdah
(i.e., saddle)
made in this mold of soft plastic
4.  Lion, one paw out 5.  Seal, balancing ball on nose 6.  Dog jumping over barrel
(or is this a big rat?)
7.  Dog in top hat, sitting 8.  Dog in top hat, with cane 9.  Dog in top hat, walking
10.  Monkey in hat, squatting 11.  Gorilla with arms up 12.  Bear with arms up
13.  Horse
Knobs on top of horse are to hold standing rider.

     Wild Animals (PL-344)
1.  Buffalo 2.  Alligator

3.  Polar bear 4.  Bear cub

5.  Tiger 6.  Leopard

7.  Giraffe 28.  Baby giraffe

9.  Camel 10.  Zebra

The Circus Tents

The circus tents for the two sets were identical other than the names emblazoned on the top and on the two flags attached to the tent tops on red plastic poles.  PFPC reports that the tent is "as colorful as any real-life circus tent could be and is one of the larger of the Marx tin lithograph pieces.  While the exterior of the tents varies, the interior is the same in both.  Without question, the artwork has to be considered one of Marx's better efforts."  The structure is about 9-by-11-by-25 inches.  

Due to their size, tents are shown here considerably smaller in scale than the figures and smaller accessories.  

Photo not available at this time.
Big Top Tent - front
Photo not available at this time.
Big Top Tent - inside

Super Circus Tent - front
Two tin litho flags on plastic poles attach to top of tent.  I do not have any right now.
Super Circus Tent - inside
Inside of tent top is white -- this one has several dings and scratches that are now permanent.
Close-ups of circus tent lithography

Tin litho flag for top of Big Top tent
Photo courtesy of Ebay coxantiques
Tin litho flags and plastic poles for top of Super Circus tent
Photo courtesy of Brandon Olivia, Ebay thisandthatcf123

Each playset includes two sideshow stages, with each one of the four being different.  All of the stages are 9-1/2 inches wide and 5-1/2 inches tall.  They are shown here about half size when compared to the figures and smaller accessories.
Big Top Tin Litho Side Show 1
Photo courtesy of Dan McLean, Ebay ID toymiester
Photo not available; we could use your photo!
Big Top Tin Litho Side Show 2
     The three panels on the stage show Vanda's Magic, Mighty Muscle Dan, and Big Top Clowns
Super Circus Tin Litho Side Show 1
Super Circus Tin Litho Side Show 2

Small Accesssories

Small circus accessories were made in two molds, one using red hard plastic and one yellow hard plastic.  These accessories were used only in the circus playsets.

     Red Circus Accessories  (PL-405)

Both the Big Top and Super Circus sets depict 2-ring circuses.  Hard plastic accessories include two red circus rings.  Two ladders with platforms at the top fit into one of the rings.  A stiff 14-inch wire fits between the ladders as the circus' high wire.  The trapeze frame and swing, also made of stiff wire, attach to the other ring.

This mold also held two short ladders for the monkey bars (see photo below for PL-406), poles for the flags that attach to the top of the tent (see photos of the flags above), as well as the small square pedastal and water tub shown below the two circus rings below.

Photo not available; we could use your photo!
High Wire Ring
Photo not available; we could use your photo!
Trapeeze Ring
Photo not available; we could use yours!
Small square pedestal Water tub
     Yellow Circus Accessories  (PL-406)
Smaller hard plastic accessories shown below came in red or yellow.
All of them are made to interact with figures, such as the ticket stand with umbrella, popcorn machine, high diver pole, and jumping ring.  The monkeys can frolic on a bi-color, 3-piece, red-and-yellow set of monkey bars. 

3-piece ticket stand with umbrella
With umbrella, stand is about 4-1/4 inches high.
2-piece popcorn cart

Plastic sideshow platform
Platform is almost five inches wide, including steps.

High dive pole
Pole is six inches high and shown smaller than other items.  Three pegs are missing.
Ladder at top of 3-piece monkey bars
Red side stands are made in PL-405 shown above.
Bars are 3-1/4 inches high and 5 inches long.

Photo not available at this time.
Jumping ring
For imaginative kids, it was the ring of fire.
Barrel - slanted sides
Barrel - straight sides
Large square pedestal Medium square pedestal Small circular stand

     Circus Truck
The company's attractive circus truck did not come in a playset.  It was sold in a box with six of the circus animals.  However, it is much larger in scale that the 45mm circus playsets.  Unlike Marx' tin litho vehicles, the truck was in blue, red, and yellow hard plastic.  I have no photos of the truck, but you can see it in Playset Magazine Issue 64.

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.