A 200-year-old doll which is part of a precious Unesco listed collection that was stolen from Waipū Museum has been returned two days later, without its scalp.

However, the mystery over who took the doll in the first place remains.

Staff were working at the museum on Monday when the 40cm high doll was removed from a glass dome where it was on display as part of the Scottish Migration collection. Museum manager Fiona Mohr said the first staff new the doll had disappeared was when they discovered a clump of blonde hair on the floor.

"This doll is a very significant part of the collection and it's gut wrenching to have her stolen like this," Mohr said on Monday.

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But the doll was put in the museum's letterbox and found by Mohr on Wednesday morning after a hunch told her it might be returned. It was wrapped in a bread bag and duct tape.

The doll was "scalped" during the theft, and damaged in the return.

Mohr said removing the doll would have meant someone lying on the floor and pulling her through a small gap in the bottom of the glass dome.

A photo of the stolen doll which is part of a Unesco listed collection at Waipu Museum. Photo / John Stone
A photo of the stolen doll which is part of a Unesco listed collection at Waipu Museum. Photo / John Stone

The collection was recognised by Unesco in 2016 and the collection documents a significant microcosm of international migration from Scotland to Nova Scotia, to Australia, and to New Zealand, reflecting the spread of the British Empire of the time, and the movement of its people.

It is thought the doll had made the entire journey before ending up in Waipū.

Mohr said staff had noticed a couple behaving suspiciously at the museum on Monday.

Mohr said there would not be a great market for the doll but it was significant as part of the collection.

She had alerted some antique dealers already and posted to various Facebook pages to raise awareness, but its return meant it could go back in the collection, after some repairs.

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The doll is worth around $3000 - but the sentimental value is much greater. It belonged to a three-year-old migrant girl named Emma MacKay who emigrated from Nova Scotia to New Zealand during the gold rush. It was passed down through her family before being donated to the museum.