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Once licked, rare stamp resurfaces

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A one-of-a-kind stamp -- presumed lost or destroyed -- suddenly appeared 38 years after being stolen from an Indianapolis collector.

The frayed and battered envelope that bore the torn Abraham Lincoln stamp, issued in 1869, belied its value. As the only so-called "Lincoln cover" known in existence, it could draw more than $1 million at auction.

"It'd be like finding the only Honus Wagner baseball card after 40 years," said Charles Snee, senior editor of a collector's trade journal.

There's just one problem: The stamp is sitting in the evidence room of the Indianapolis FBI.

"We are getting it authenticated and appraised, and our agents are talking to lawyers from the family who had it stolen and the company that insured it to see who gets it," FBI spokeswoman Wendy Osborne said. "Eventually, I presume, a judge will make a decision."

And there's a third party in this dispute: a California collector whose proof of a claim may have disappeared when his partner leapt to his death from the Golden Gate Bridge 11 years ago.

Whoever wins this battle will undoubtedly have the world's most valuable collection of what experts call the "1869 pictorials."

"The fact that it was stolen and recovered -- this is what's generating so much buzz in the philatelic world," Snee said.

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