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Marx 552 gondola

The Marx 552 gondola was a staple of Marx’s 6-inch line, running from way back in 1935 to 1952. It came in four different major variants, and only one of them is rare. The 552 is a good car for toy train operators, and also makes a nice Christmas train or display because of its color choices.

Red Marx 552 gondola

red Marx 552 gondola

Marx’s first gondola to carry the 552 number had a simple black-on-red design.

The original 552 had a red body with black lettering and details. It was a very simple two color design. It generally came on either plain black stamped frames or lithographed frames that were black with silver details. This added a little more color to the car without significantly increasing the cost, since the frame was a different piece. They could print both components with just two printing plates.

This 552 was lettered Rock Island, a now-defunct line also known as the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific railroad. The Rock Island fell on hard times in the late 1950s, attempted to merge with Union Pacific in the 1960s and failed, and ultimately went bankrupt and was liquidated in 1980. But it was a major railroad throughout much of the United States in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. It inspired an American folk song, “The Rock Island Line,” first recorded in 1934. Marx’s rival, Unique Art, made an attractive diesel engine in Rock Island livery in the early 1950s.

Marx green 552 gondola

green Marx 552 gondola

The green Marx 552 gondola was produced both before and after World War II. Prewar examples are always a brighter green. Some postwar examples are teal.

The longest running and most common type of Marx 552 gondola had a green body with details printed in a combination of red and yellow. With the additional colors, the details pop a little bit better. It still looks like a toy, but it doesn’t look as cheap. Introduced in 1938, it continued until 1942. Then it ran again from 1946 to 1952.

I don’t know if the design was intentional, but a string of 552s looks good under a Christmas tree. You can complete the look with a red 556 caboose at the end, and you can mix in some of the earlier red 552s to get some contrast.

This variant was also lettered for the Rock Island. Because this variant had a longer production run, it is available on a wider variety of frames. You can find it on four-wheel and eight wheel frames, both with and without with the lithograph detail.

You can sometimes tell a prewar green 552 from a postwar example by the color. Prewar examples are bright green. Some postwar examples from 1946 to 1952 are a more subdued teal color, sometimes almost blue.

Marx 552G: Groceries and Sundries

Marx 552G gondola

The Marx Groceries and Sundries gondola had catalog number 552G.

Another variant of the Marx 552 gondola was the 552G, which looked a lot like a regular 552 in design, but printed in various shades of yellow. Its lettering is also a bit different, containing the words groceries and sundries. It doesn’t have the Rock Island herald on it but still has the C.R.I&P lettering.

This car frequently came with a load. Louis Marx convinced various candy makers to produce miniature boxes that he could include in the car. These boxes were the same size as traditional Halloween candy boxes, so when the original loads are missing, you can substitute modern candy and raisin boxes to approximate what the vintage loads resembled. Of course the product design has changed a bit over the decades, but if the car looks better load it up then empty, these modern substitutions are an option for you. And they are especially cheap on November 1st.

Marx 548 milk gondola

Marx also made a milk gondola, numbered 548, that was kind of a hybrid of the other 552 designs. Lettered for Guernsey Milk and C.R.I&P, it had a teal color scheme similar to postwar 552s, and it carried a load of milk cans. Original milk cans are wood, painted silver. Guernsey refers to a type of cattle, distinct from the more common Jersey breed, and its milk is more expensive because of its more desirable properties.

The 548 had a catalog number of 548, separate from the 552s, but I write about it here because of its similarity to various 552s. It was only produced from 1938 to 1942, so it is somewhat more expensive than the non-military 552s. It’s worth much more with its original load, so be careful about reproductions.

Marx 552M ammunition car

Marx 552M ordnance gondola

Marx called the 552M an ammunition car, not an ordnance gondola. But it’s clearly a 552 in olive drab.

The Marx 552M doesn’t have the number 552 on the side like the others, but it’s a 552 with different lithography, this time in olive drab. This one is part of the popular Marx army train. While some Marx books call this an ordnance gondola, Marx officially called it an ammunition car. It’s yet another example of Marx using the same tooling with a different printed design to make a new product.

This car also came with a load. It could be a combination of bullets and anti aircraft shells, or just bullets.

While the other versions of the Marx 552 gondola aren’t terribly expensive, the 552M commands a fairly high price, especially if it has an original load. Reproduction loads are available, so ask questions before paying a steep premium for a loaded 552M.

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