×
×

Marx Wind-Up Climbing Toys

Author Photo
By Sara Jordan-Heintz

Like a kid with an old toy, collecting and restoring Marx toys helps Illinois man revisit his childhood.

by Terena Coziahr
Perry Coziahr with some of his 60 Marx wind-up climbing toys. For years, Louis Marx & Co. toys were imprinted with the slogan “One of the many Marx toys, have you all of them?”

Toys cherished during childhood have a way of becoming relevant again in adulthood. Decades after first playing with a Marx windup climbing toy tractor as a boy, Perry Coziahr came across one at a flea market. That launched a collection that today numbers 60 – and an active restoration operation.

“Disassembly and repair are a lot like restoring old farm tractors (another hobby of mine), robbing parts off of old salvage toys to make one good toy out of two,” he says. “I have concentrated on toys from the early 1930s to 1950s because the earlier toys are made of tin, rather than plastic.”

Marx lithographed patterns on large sheets of tinplate steel. The sheets were then stamped, die-cut, folded and assembled. “They’re a fascinating toy. There are no batteries, just a big wind-up key on the side of them,” Perry says. “You wind them up and watch them go.”

photo by: by Terena Coziahr

Perry has extensive inventory of the “little men” that were operators of various Marx toys from the 1930s to the 1950s.

“More toy for less money”

Louis Marx & Co., New York City, manufactured toys from 1919 to 1980. Known for their tin wind-up creations, the company producedtinplate buildings, toy soldiers, toy dinosaurs, toy guns, action figures, dolls, dollhouses, toy cars, trucks, trains, and children’s typewriters.

Marx believed six qualities to be essential to a toy’s success: familiarity, surprise, skill, play value, comprehensibility and sturdiness, according to the book “Wheels: Christie’s World of Automotive Toys” by Sue and Mike Richardson.

photo by: by Terena Coziahr

A reversing Marx Tractor. It reverses direction when its front or back bumper hits an obstacle.

The Marx logo consisted of the letters “MAR” in a circle with a large X across the letters. Because the X sometimes is not seen, Marx toys are sometimes misidentified as MAR toys. The company’s mission was “to give the customer more toy for less money.”

Marx’s less-expensive toys were commonly sold in dime stores. The larger, more costly pieces were sold in department stores and in direct mail catalogs. By 1922, the company’s cofounders were both millionaires. By the 1950s, Marx was the largest toy manufacturer in the world.

photo by: by Terena Coziahr

This Marx “sparking” tractor dates to the 1950s.

On Wikipedia, Francis Turner, founder of the Marx Toy Museum that once operated in Moundsville, West Virginia (the museum was permanently closed in 2016), says that one in three toys made in America in 1955 were made by Marx.

“The Glen Dale, West Virginia, plant was the largest of the plants,” he says. “The Erie, Pennsylvania, plant mainly made the wind-up toys, and the Glen Dale plant made a lot of the push toys.”

A quarter-century collection

photo by: by Terena Coziahr

This Marx “mini tractor” dates to the late 1930s. Unlike most companies, Marx’s revenues actually grew during the Great Depression.

Perry lives in Cambridge, Illinois, about 30 miles southeast of Moline. He grew up on a farm and has worked in agricultural-related fields for most of his career.

He began his Marx hobby 25 years ago. He says it took him several years to even spot a Marx wind-up toy tractor at an auction. A lot of toys he’s found have been in need of repair or were missing parts, making them bargains.

photo by: by Terena Coziahr

This Military Marx tractor dates to the 1940s.

He starts restoration by disassembling the toy and replacing bad gears. He then goes to work on the mechanics.The parts are held together by small metal tabs and pins that he straightens with needle-nose pliers. “Each toy has a permanent key right on it,” Perry says. “Marx advertised them as an unbreakable spring, but I find them sometimes with the key mechanism broken.”

He says the toys’ motor mechanisms changed little over the years. “You can take a newer model ‘junk toy’ (like one made in the 1960s), take it apart and use the parts to replace the bad parts in the one you want to fix,” he says. When it comes to restoration, Perry draws the line at paint. “I might just touch up the wheels with paint, but (the toys) are lithographed,” he says, “and you can’t really paint over that or you’d devalue the toy,” he notes.

photo by: by Terena Coziahr

A Caterpillar Diesel with detachable crane from the 1950s.

A good man is hard to find

Each Marx toy came with a little “tin man” attached to the seating area. “Marx made several variations of the tin drivers over the years,” Perry says, “and matching the right one to the proper tractor took a lot of research.”

Most of the time, when he purchases a toy, it has no operator.”If you find the right tin man to put on that tractor and get it completed,” he says, “you could almost double its value.” Marx would sometimes use the same tin man on several models. Once Perry matches the right tin man to the right toy, it snaps or slides in place.

One of the biggest challenges he’s faced in his hobby was coming up with a way to restore the exhaust’s “sparking” mechanism. “Usually, the sparking mechanism has quit working because it’s worn out,” he says. “It’s a little flint that runs on an abrasive wheel, and that causes a spark to shoot out. Both the flint and abrasion can wear off, and it took me forever to find an abrasive material that would work. I tried sandpaper, sand, lots of things, then finally figured it out.”

Because of the risk of rust, Perry never washes the toys with soap and water. Instead, he applies a spray wax to add a bit of shine. He uses WD-40 to lubricate the working mechanisms. Because of the age of these antiques, rubber tracks are often brittle, cracked or broken.

photo by: by Terena Coziahr

This 5-1/2-inch-long Marx “mini tractor” dates to the 1950s.

A father-daughter hobby

Marx wind-up climbing toy tractors fetch between $50 and $450 on eBay, depending on condition and rarity. The most expensive piece he owns is a 1932 Marxhill-climbing dump truck. “Over 25 years of collecting, I’ve seen three,” he says, “and I own two of them.”

For the novice collector, Perry advises starting with Marx toys produced after 1960.

photo by: by Terena Coziahr

A restored mechanism from Perry’s inventory ready for use in a restoration.

While he doesn’t know anyone else who restores Marx toys, his daughter Terena Coziahr shares his passion for these antiques.

“I just enjoy helping my father find the parts he needs to complete a restoration,” she says. “It is also fun to find a unique tractor that he doesn’t already own, which is a rare occurrence anymore.”

In addition to his interest in Marx toys, Perry also restores antique tractors. He’s saved 16 from the salvage yard and sold them to new owners. “It takes a lot of work to bring one back to life,” he says. “I get a kick out of that.” He is a member of the Antique Engine & Tractor Assn. in Geneseo, Illinois. Along with tractor shows, he also participates in the occasional tractor drive.

But he still enjoys the toys that take him back in time. “You probably need to be over 70 years old to have played with one as a child,” he says. “It always amazed me that Marx could ship in the raw materials, manufacture, lithograph, assemble and ship them across the U.S. and sell them for 59 cents each.” FC

photo by: by Terena Coziahr

Restoration and repairs can be done in the house. Perry keeps spare parts in a tackle box.


For more information: email Perry Coziahr at coziajd@gmail.com.

Sara Jordan-Heintz is a freelance newspaper and magazine journalist based in Iowa. She enjoys writing human interest stories, business profiles, flash fiction and covering all things antiques and collectibles. Her collection of biographies, “Going Hollywood: Midwesterners in Movieland,” is out now.

Follow her on Twitter: @SaraEliz90 or contact her at: rose111@netins.net.

Published on Sep 21, 2021

Farm Collector Magazine

Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment