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Ice House Cover Still On Ice

By VSC Special Correspondent Randall Sherman

The Ice House Cover
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Those who attended July 20th's meeting of the Chicago Philatelic Society (meeting #2791 in the Society's storied history) got a special treat for the evening's philatelic program; "The Ice House Cover Did Not Melt Away," by James Lee of Chicago's northwest suburbs, a specialist in Classic U.S. material and the man whom Charles Berg called when that elderly couple tried to sell him in early January the the Ice House Cover (bearing the only known copy of the 1869 90-cent Lincoln stamp on cover, which had been stolen in Indianapolis back in the 1960s).

Lee, who called the Chicago Police Department at Berg's request once he realized the nature (and legal status) of the cover, told his fellow philatelists his role in that day's strange tale. When Lee first called the Chicago Police Department's 911 emergency number, the dispatcher had difficulty realizing the significance of the matter. "I realized she didn't know what a cover was," Lee explained. However, he was able to overcome that problem by using a magic phrase. "I told her it could be worth a million dollars," Lee said, noting that got the attention of the CPD very quickly, as a unit of patrol cars, led by a sergeant, soon arrived at Berg's Stamp King store on Chicago's Far Northwest Side.

When Lee was informed that the police sergeant was not willing to take the cover into custody (as he did not wish to be responsible for it), Lee called APS insurance guru Dan Walker of Collectibles Insurance Agency and then Ephraim W. Day, Jr., the chairman of the APS Stamp Theft Committee and a former police officer. Eventually, contacts were made up the chain of the CPD command to insure that the sergeant wasn't going to let the couple simply take the cover home with them. After several hours of delays, someone from the FBI's Chicago office finally arrived to take custody of the cover.

As for the elderly couple who brought the cover to Stamp King that day, Lee noted that details in their story (as to how they came into possession of the cover) kept changing. Lee pointed out that while the couple could have been involved (or at least knew of) the 1967 theft of the cover, the statute of limitations for offenses related to the theft have long since elapsed.

Lee went on to talk about the other key question: Who owns the cover today? He explained that the owner of the collection that included the Ice House Cover, J. David Baker, was in effect screwed by the insurance company. Having been paid by them for his losses, they refused to sell his collection back to him when the rest of his stolen material was recovered several months later. The insurance company sold the material (advertising that it came from the Baker collection) for a sizable profit.

But according to Lee, Baker then made a deal with the insurance company to get the Ice House Cover back should it ever resurface (which the insurance company, believing the cover had been destroyed and the 90-cent Lincoln stamp had been removed to sell in a less obvious manner, was quite willing to go along with).

It seems the insurance company did not make a bad deal, given the fact that by the time the cover resurfaced, the insurance company had been sold three times! The cover, which had only fetched about $300 to $400 back at its last public sale in 1943, is definitely worth over a million dollars in today's market, Lee said.

Lee said he thinks Baker's heirs will eventually be given ownership of the Ice House Cover, because of that written agreement between Baker and the insurance company. "I think it will go back to the Baker family," Lee said.

The theft of the Baker collection, one of three successful thefts from APS members in Indianapolis that night, prompted a number of changes in APS policy, among them, since then, the APS has not publicized the full addresses of its members. (For example, the membership application listings found in The American Philatelist only list a person's home town, not a full address.)

While those 1967 thefts in Indianapolis were clearly part of an organized theft ring, Lee dismissed one tale of the Ice House saga: that the Ice House Cover was stolen for the benefit of Chicago crime boss Sam "Momo" Giancana.

Lee's presentation concluded with tips on what to do with one's valuable collection, including discussing just how one's insurance policy is set up, as well as advice on keeping valuable material away from your home premises.

For now, the Ice House Cover remains in the custody of the FBI in its Indianapolis office.

For ongoing discussion about the Icehouse Cover recovery, visit our message board.

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