Photo of a doll, laying on a metal shelf lined with a thin sheet of plastic packing. The doll is dressed only in a cotton underdress with no sleeves. The doll has no hair and its eyes are closed, but because of the difference in color of eyelid and face, it appears as though the doll has blank eyes. Its orange-lipped mouth is open, and its arms are askew.


Dolls: Precious or Creepy?

(Maybe both!)

This collection is a particular highlight in our Behind-the-Scenes museum tours; we open up the moveable storage to our visible doll collection stored on shelves and in drawers, and the first thing out of people’s mouths: “Creepy!”...often accompanied by shivers and a pervasive feeling of the willies.

Photo of white floor-to-ceiling shelves of the collections area of the museum. The large room is painted white with white floors, and dolls and other boxes can be seen laying on the shelves in storage.

History Colorado’s visible doll storage within the Collection Storage area at the Center. 

Photos by Christina Vu-Pham

History Colorado is blessed with an extensive doll collection, thanks in large part to Bernice Lang who donated over 1700 dolls in 1988. As you’ll see in the photos here, many of our dolls are stored facedown. This is actually a preventative conservation technique. Many of the dolls have blinking eyes; the weight and attached mechanism to the eyes, that keep them open when posed upright, become fragile over time. Gravity will pull on the weight which will then break any of the attachments and even destroy the eyes. We like to make gravity work with us (and the dolls), and the best way to do that is to store the dolls’ faces on a foam ring (we like to use backing rod), facedown.

Photo of the head of a large porcelain doll, being held up by someone's left hand wearing a blue latex glove. The doll is facing toward the camera, its curly blonde hair in ringlets and some tied up with a blue ribbon on top of her head. The pink porcelain has painted-on eyebrows and orange lips, however there are no eyes or eyelids, so the viewer sees into the doll's empty head cavity.

Simon & Halbig doll, 1876-1902, bequeathed by Bernice Lang. This doll is stored facedown, even with the broken eyes.

History Colorado. 88.410.591
Photo of a porcelain doll, sitting upright against a black draped background. She is wearing a pink dress and shoes with white gloves and stockings. She has long blonde hair that falls in ringlets over her shoulders. She has blue eyes, pink full cheeks, and painted brown eyebrows. She is placed next to color swatches and measuring strips to document her size and colors for the purpose of the museum collection.

J.D. Kestner doll with a human hair wig, 1894–1920.

Bernice Lang Collection. History Colorado. 88.410.133

Other reasons dolls might be stored upside down? Their hair! If the hair is an attached wig made of human hair, we want to prevent breakage of those precious strands and keep our dolls as intact as possible. Since human or animal hair (typically horsehair—although that is more often used to stuff dolls) is an organic material, it is more sensitive to agents of deterioration and the best way to prevent hair breakage is to store the doll with the wig free from the weight of the doll’s head. (Talk about creepy! There are few things more disarming than a doll with “trimmed” hair.)


Photo of a large doll, lying facedown in a drawer in storage. The doll has long blonde hair that has slight curls at the ends, in a wig that appears to be detached from the doll head. The doll wears a pink dress with white gloves and stockings and pink buckle mary jane-style shoes.

The same J.D. Kestner doll, lying in storage. You can see that the wig has already detached moderately from the head.

Bernice Lang Collection. History Colorado. 88.410.133


Of course, even though many of us are used to our dolls, sometimes our coworkers like to keep us on our toes!

Photo of white metal storage shelves, upon which several dolls are laying either on their backs or facedown. On the higher shelf are two larger dolls that are missing the tops of their porcelain heads and have no hair. The doll on the right, wearing stockings and a cloth diaper, is holding a short knife in its right hand. The knife was staged there as a joke by one of the History Colorado staff members.

Dolls posed with small weapons from the History Colorado Collection. Thanks, James.

Photo by Lori Bailey


So, what do you think? Dolls are precious toys or creepy avatars?


Photo of a white metal storage cabinet with drawers. The third drawer down has been pulled out and it is full of small dolls of different ages, sizes, and ethnicities. In the lower left corner is a plastic Dennis the Menace doll, facing upwards, and on the right amongst the other dolls a Kewpie doll in a pink dress is visible.

Additional dolls in storage drawers dating from the mid-nineteenth century to the late twentieth century.

Photos by Christina Vu-Pham

As an extra bonus, you can search the Bernice Lang doll collection online! Go to and search “Bernice Lang.” Here’s a preview of what you might find:

Photo of a doll from the museum collection, lying on a plain flat white background and next to a centimeter measurement strip. The doll approximately 15-18 cm long, and has thin straight shoulder-length blonde hair. Its facial markings are simple, with painted eyebrows and no eyelashes. The doll is dressed in a thinly striped gray and white dress, simply styled and made of cotton.

Papier-mâché and wax doll, 1860–1890. Those bloodshot eyes really do me in.

Bernice Lang Collection. History Colorado. 88.410.368
Photo of a doll, poised upright in front of a black background. The doll is female, dressed in a fancy white dress with a long full skirt and long sleeves with a lacy collar and a ribbon waistband. The dolls long red hair is topped with a long tuile veil and a bow, and her porcelain face is full with rosy cheeks and eye makeup.

Guatier & Fils French fashion doll, 1860–1882. Miss Havisham, much?

Bernice Lang Collection. History Colorado. 88.410.66

Curious about other creepy dolls in other museums? Check out this doll patent model at the Smithsonian— it crawls on its own!

Photo of a mechanized doll which appears poised to crawl across the white tabletop. The doll has no hair, rosy cheeks, and blue painted eyes. Its head is attached to the metal workings that make up the body of the doll, upon which porcelain hands and feet have been attached. The clockwork gears and key are on the doll's side, along with a tag which has handwriting that says "No. 118435. George P. Clark. Patented Aug 29, 1871."
Image courtesy of Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History