A blast from the past!

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Recently, I was rummaging around in our crowded basement storage room and opened a large bin chockful of old toy army men. Many of the plastic warriors were from when my kids were small in the 1980s, but a significant number were from my childhood in the 1960s.  As I examined the thousand-plus figures, there was a dazzling array of types and manufacturers. Here was the majority of my old Marx 54mm Centennial edition “Blue & Gray” playset. Scattered among the more recent figures were vintage Britains, Swoppets, Timpo, Timmee, MPC, Lido, and other makes I have long since forgotten. Cannons, fences, horses, wagons, trees, lunettes, you name it, it was in the box.

The 60’s were truly a hey-day of plastic playsets. I had the Marx Civil War set, as well as the ever popular Fort Apache, with its baffling, but colorful array of green, blue, yellow, and even red Indians. I also had the smaller Boonesborough set with its 54mm Daniel Boone (which came about from the Fess Parker TV series of the time). I had a few bags of Marx WWII figures (Japanese, Russian, German, US soldiers), and many others.

When I got money for my birthdays, I would make sure I headed to S. S. Kresge’s the next time my parents went to town. I still have my Marx “Warriors of the World” figures, complete with their descriptive trading card and their mint boxes, still stamped with the red circle with the number 10. A dime a figure seems like a bargain today, but then, it was a steep price when you only had a quarter to spend. In my quiet little neighborhood, a number of the mothers gave me their older kids’ collections when they outgrew them, so my armies grew as the wars escalated in the sandbox under one of Dad’s many apple trees in the back yard orchard.

My little grandson just turned two. I bought him one of those cheap plastic sets of Civil War soldiers that Americana Distributing seems to sell at every Gettysburg tourist trap. That way, he has his own ACW playset until he’s old enough to layout the vintage Marx figures for a grand battle tossing marbles at the figures until the last man is standing. Another generation, another chance to teach a love for history through plastic army men!

Anyone else have memories of your playsets or toy soldiers when you were a kid? Do you still have any of them? What’s your favorite set? How did you play sham battles with them? Marbles? Stones? Something else?

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Categories: Civil War toys | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “A blast from the past!

  1. Craig Ackerman

    Yes, all I wanted for Christmas in 1961 was the Marx Civil War set in the Sears catalogue (54 Union and 63 Confederate figures plus cannon etc, you know). I got it and added to it like you did.

    I sold mine many years ago to a guy who bought and sold that kind of stuff to collectors. It was before E-Bay, before the internet. I don’t regret the sale though I do have many fond memories of the Marx soldiers.

  2. Tom Reed

    One of my best Christmas’ ever was the year that my parents gave me two playests!
    Under the tree was the Fort Apache playset and a World War II playset. It was awesome! I fondly remember many fights on the frontroom floor.

    The WWII set had tanks, halftracks, gun emplacements, and a working helicopter. You pushed it ont0 a spring loaded base and then wound the top rotor. When you pushed a switch the helicopter would shoot into the air. I once made the mistake of wanting a birds eye view to watch the helicopter launch. needless to say, I launched the darn thing into a collision with my nose!

  3. A good many of those figures still are available today from people who are reusing the original molds. Michigan Toy Soldier Company has quite a few.

  4. Joe LePard

    I found a picture of my ACW Marx(?) set that I received for Christmas when I was 5. It had cannons that really shot little shells. It was so cool. Too bad my Mom threw them away in 1 of our many moves.

    Joe

  5. My dad bought me the Fort Apache when I was 6 and I even got to play with it after he set it up. I got the Civil War 54 mm set later and eventually had a lot of the plastic WW2 HO armor made in Austria. Whenever I got some cash I would buy another vehicle or some Airfix men at the locla hobby shop. I wish I still had these but sold all the WW2 stuff to a friend in 1968.

  6. Joe Martin

    I too got the Sears/Marx set for Christmas in 1961 when I was 8 years old. When I went off to college it was boxed up in the garage. Many years later I recovered them only to discover that the extreme heat of many summers in that uninsulated garage in Dallas had made them extremely brittle – too brittle for anything but the most careful handling.

    Then in 1988 I traveled to the 125th Gettysburg reenactment and discovered the “sutlers” with the Marx restrikes. It was like a weird fraternity reunion with all the guys standing around fishing through the boxes for a particular pose and regaling one another with stories like those related here. Needless to say I bought several of every pose.

    Later, in 1992, I had a few days left over at the end of vacation and, at age 38, spent them in the backyard in hot and humid East Texas making a better battlefield than any I ever made as a child. My 12 year old son thought his Dad had finally gone over the edge. But now he has a four year old son who thinks Paw-Paw’s “guys” are the greatest and begs me to get them out every time he comes over. So life is good.

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