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University of Utah Department of Public Safety
University of Utah professor Minqi Li holds his decades-old stamp collection after recovering it with the help of U. Police Sgt. Mark Veatupu, left, at the university on Monday, April 22, 2019. The books had been missing for over a year.

SALT LAKE CITY — University of Utah economics professor Minqi Li has been collecting stamps for decades. He kept about six books of them stashed in a drawer in his office.

But last April when the economics department was moved from the old, dilapidated law school building known on campus as Building 73 to the new Gardner Commons, Li neglected to grab the books from his desk.

"Somehow I left all those six stamp collection books in that old office," he said. "I brought everything else with me. I had them in the drawer where I kept them to be safe, but forgot to collect them at the last minute."

University of Utah Department of Public Safety
University of Utah Professor Minqi Li looks through his decades-old stamp collection after recovering it with the help of U. Police Sgt. Mark Veatupu at the university on Monday, April 22, 2019.

It took the help of the University police to get them back.

The building was closed for safety reasons during an ongoing and extensive renovation, and Li couldn't get inside on his own.

He had only recently remembered that the books might be there, after his parents returned from a trip to Cuba with some new stamps.

"I thought it was long shot," said U. Police Sgt. Mark Veatupu, who escorted Li into the old building last week.

After getting through the construction crew, Li and Veatupu found the office that Li used to work out of, but it was piled high with old furniture from the surrounding offices. They dug through the dusty pile and "in the last drawer of the last desk" they could get to, Veatupu said they found the stamps.

"It was a really great feeling," he said. "It's not often that we have a case with such a good ending. It's not often where we can change someone's day so drastically.

University of Utah Department of Public Safety
The office/makeshift storage room at the University of Utah where professor Minqi Li recovered his decades-old stamp collection with the help of U. police Sgt. Mark Veatupu is pictured on Monday, April 22, 2019.

"As law enforcement officers, we're here to protect and serve, but that 'serve' also means going the extra mile," Veatupu said.

Li said he was "very happy" to have the stamps back. It's something that has worried him for some time, though he hadn't paid much attention to them for years.

"I feel really lucky," Li said, adding that he might even pick up collecting again.

The books of stamps, which he started compiling in high school, contain thousands of stamps, from hundreds of countries and thousands of cities, dating back to the 19th century. If he were to sell them, Li said he's sure they'd be worth some money. However, he is planning to give them to his daughter someday.

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"She's not yet reached the age where she would appreciate that," Li told the Deseret News on Wednesday, adding that the books will make an interesting gift in the future, given that the mail system and stamps aren't used as much now.

"I got them from friends and relatives, you know, in those days people were still mailing a lot," Li said. "There are stamps of many historical locations. It gives you the memory of those moments in history. It's really great."

Li now keeps those books at his home, where "hopefully I don't lose them again," he said.