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
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.

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Character Figures
Performers, Circus Workers, and a Few Customers
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Please note:  For the most part, figures on this page are shown in approximately proper proportion when compared to other figures.  The exceptions to this include 1) some large accessories have been decreased in size and 2) photos of multiple figures.

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.
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

Figures in the two sets are the same poses, but not colors.  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."  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, 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.  Mr. and Mrs. Tiny Tim  

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

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

13.  Male trapeeze artist 14.  Female trapeeze artist

15.  Male trapeeze artist 16.  Female trapeeze artist

17.  Tight rope walker 18.  Woman riding horse

19.  Barrel juggler 20.  Elephant rider

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

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

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

30.  Man with crying son 31.  Woman with daughter

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


Similar to the large number of performer figures, Marx provided 29 animals 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.

 Playset animals were gray or red brown.  The red monkeys below were sold separately.  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.  Animals sold in header bags usually came in light green or gray.

 The figures provide plenty of interaction with the performers and accessories.  The the lion tamer has his big cats, the elephant man and assistant 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.   
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

7.  Dog jumping over barrel
(or is this a big rat?)
8.  Dog in top hat, walking 9.  Dog in top hat, sitting
10.  Dog in top hat, with cane 11.  Monkey in hat, squatting 12.  Gorilla with arms up
13.  Bear with arms up 14.  Seal, balancing ball on nose 15.  Lion, one paw out
16.  Elephant sitting 17.  Elephant walking

19.  Horse
Knobs on top of horse are to hold standing rider.
20.  Alligator

21.  Bison 22.  Bear walking 23.  Bear cub

24.  Tiger 25.  Leopard

26.  Giraffe 27.  Baby giraffe

28.  Camel 29.  Zebra

     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.


     Tin Litho Accessories

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 at this time.
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

     Plastic Accessories

The sets' primary hard plastic accessories include two red circus rings and two ladders that set into the rings with small platforms at the top.  A stiff 14-inch wire -- smaller in some sets -- fits between the ladders as the circus' high wire.  Fitting into two small holes in the rings is the trapeze frame and swing, also made of stiff wire.    
Photo not available at this time.
High Wire Ring
Photo not available at this time.
Trapeeze Ring

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.
3-piece monkey bars
Bars are 3-1/4 inches high and 5 inches long.

Photo not available at this time. Photo not available at this time.
Jumping ring
For imaginative kids, it was the ring of fire.
Barrel - slanted sides
Barrel - straight sides Water tub
Intended to sit below the high dive pole!
Elephant howdah
(i.e., saddle)
made in soft plastic
Large square pedestal Medium square pedestal Small circular stand Small square pedestal

     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.