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?