Beyond the realm of individual action figures lies the land of the playsets. These boxed toy packages include buildings, landscapes, figurines, and accessories to recreate entire worlds in miniature. Playsets range from general themed environments like battlegrounds, farms, or jungles, to places with specific character and pop-culture references, like Roy Rodgers’ Rodeo Ranch or Masters of the Universe’s Eternia.

The undisputed leader of playset manufacturing was the American toy company Marx, which was famous for its model trains. Anticipating the need for metal conservation during World War II, Marx began developing a new plastics department at its factory in the 1930s. Plastic toys could be produced much more cheaply than their metal predecessors. Indeed, some of Marx’s original sets include hundreds of individual pieces.

Building on the popularity of toy soldier and battle-scene sets, Marx eventually expanded the genre to include every historical or fictional setting imaginable, although the playset's "plot" usually still involved two groups in conflict, like cowboys and Indians or the Confederate and Union armies. Some of the rarest Marx sets are its Prehistoric Playsets, which were produced in 1961 and included plastic dinosaurs, cavemen, trees, and rocks.

Typically, playsets incorporated an architectural centerpiece like a castle or fort, which provided the backdrop for the miniature environment. Despite the widespread use of plastic in the 1950s and '60s, these buildings tended to be made of lithographed tin to add realistic detailing to the setting, while the small figures and accessories were often made of unpainted, colored plastic. Often there was a huge variety of characters and accessories in each set, usually with figures in highly dramatic poses.

Accompanying the growing infatuation with space travel, companies released massive plastic sets featuring spacecraft, astronauts, and otherworldly locales. The popular Major Matt Mason series was created by Mattel, which modeled its parts on NASA space-travel vehicles and equipment.

The popularity of generically themed playsets declined steadily during the 1970s, even as Star Wars branded sets sold millions. In 1972, Marx was sold to the Quaker Oats Company and soon stopped producing its signature line of playset toys altogether. In the 1990s, though, as Baby Boomers raised with childhood playsets grew nostalgic for their favorite toys, companies like Conte revived the industry and started producing highly detailed toy sets for a new adult market.

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Museum of Childhood

Museum of Childhood

Embrace your inner child on this website from the Victoria and Albert Museum, filled with high-quality images and i… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

1931 Rare! Ac Gilbert Erector Set Number A Super Locomotive W Manual & BoxCustom Tatooine Shop Building Playset Diorama Star Wars Gi Joe 1:18 3.75in #2Vintage Marx Guns Of Navarone Giant Play Set Army Men, Accessories, TanksOctonauts Octopod Playset & Octonauts & Sea CreaturesVintage Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea Playset - RemcoOriginal Marx Alaska Playset BuildingRare! Vintage 1950's Happi Time Roy Rogers Rodeo Ranch Marx #3992 Cowboy IndiansMarx Revolionary War Set 3401 - Color MatchVintage Marx Tin Litho Western Ranch/farm House For Unknown Play Set~circa 50sFisher Price - Octonauts - Peso's On - The - Go Pod -playset- Figure- Gift -bnibMarx Wagon Driver Civil War Play Set Figures1950s Marx Disney Boxed Minty Davy Crockett At The Alamo Play Set1950s Marx Wagon Train Play Set 60mm Covered Wagon Top With Seat And BarrelBnib Peppa Pig's Theme Park Helter Skelter Ride Playset Age 3+ Damaged BoxMarx Rifleman Gunsmoke Roy Rogers Wagon Train Playset Tin Cabin House Rare Porch Marx 54 Mm Wells Fargo Stage CoachPalisades Muppets Backstage Playset With Rowlf & Pops - IncompleteVintage Star Wars Esb Dagobah Action Playset Mib Unused Contents - No Reserve!Toy Soliders From Louis Marx Battleground SetsMarx Captain Gallant Playset PlusMarx Battleground Large Lot, Tanks Vehicles, Mat, Accessories, TroopsMarx Tin Litho Roy Rogers Western Mineral City Playset Hotel Bank Barber Motu Castle Grayskull & Snake Mountain Playsets From Mattel 1980's He ManVintage Marx Miniature Knights & Vikings Playset In Original Box - IncompleteVintage Star Wars Land Of The Jawas Action Playset Mib - No Reserve!Soul Charge Dlrg-en014 Dlrg-de014 German Unl Nm/m X3 Playset1978 Marx Navarone Giant Play Set Mountain, Armies, Accessories,extra ArmyMego Star Trek Mission To Gamma Vi PlaysetKenner Tree Tots Family Tree House W/ Figures, Furniture, Car, Swing, Dog HousePee-wee's Playhouse Playset Lot With Figures * Boxed * Matchbox Pee Wee HermanFisher Price - Octonauts - Shellington's On - The - Go Pod -playset- Figure BnibNib Lego Star Wars Pre Vizsla's Mandalorian Fighter Playset Pack 9525Vtg 1940's Distler W German Car, Battery Tin Metal Gas Service Station PlaysetNib Lego The Lego Movie Castle Cavalry Playset Pack 70806Smash Up Derby Kenner Ssp 1971 Chevy Nomad -57 Chevy Near MintStar Wars Vintage Kenner Death Star Space Station Complete Playset 1978Vintage Marx Tin Litho Playset HousecottageVintage Airfix Ho-oo Sherwood (robin Hood) PlaysetVintage 1967 Ivan Tors Films Marx Daktari Playset-play Set-tv Show W/ BoxMarx 1960's Fort Apache Playset With 97 Pieces! Vintage Toy Set Indians CowboysTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Action Figure Vintage Tmnt Toy Technodrome PlaysetPlaymobil Knight's Empire Castle Playset 3268Vintage Ideal Toys Battle Action Play Set Sniper Post 1965 Works !!Lalaloopsy Mini Doll Lot Over 40 Pieces, Includes 14 Minis Carrying Case PlaysetVintage Disney Aladdin Polly Pocket Playset With 9 Figures, Bluebird ToyBig Jim Action Figure Italian Issue With Box, Mattel Wagon - Rock Piles - Tents - Etc - Marx Playset LotSuper7 Alien Reaction Egg Chamber Playset Sdcc Comic Con Funko Super 7Vintage Weebles Haunted House Romper Room In Box Hasbro 1976 Halloween Vintage Walt Disney's Marx Zorro Playset-incomplete.Huge Lot Of Assorted Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Figures Vehicles Playsets +eucMego 8" Kojak Office Headquarters Playset Excel Mint And Complete 1976 Mib1950s- Marx Roy Rogers Pony Express Great ConditionMarx Roy Rogers Mineral City Western Town Tin Litho Playset W/access And BoxVintage Buddy L Tool Chest With Many ToolsStar Wars: Jabba The Hut Dungeon Playset, Afa 80, RotjMarx: Operation Moon Base Playset Terrain Piece! Vintage 1960 Space Toy Classic!Buffy Vampire Slayer Diamond Select Action Figure Playset Library Display 6" Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Sewer PlaysetVintage Empire Strikes Back Star Wars Kenner Turret And Probot Playset W/ Box