About This Site

So what’s this about? It’s a personal art/collecting project spanning two generations that took 47 years to find its way onto the web.

My Dad

This site is not strictly about my father. Not directly, and certainly not in full, but you cannot approach this site without learning a little bit about him.

Edward Garbowski was a husband, father, brother, and uncle. He was a self-taught artist who worked in oils, metal, watercolor, pencil, and pen and ink (at least). He was born, lived, and died in Yonkers New York (1927-1989).  He read. He read Dostoyevsky, Waugh, Pynchon, Merton, Rand, St. Augustine, Joyce and many more. He never attended a day of college, and majored in carpentry in a trade high school. He collected coins, stamps, and autographs, an odd bits of other memorabilia. He worked his entire adult life in a sugar refinery on the Hudson River, where his job classification was “pipefitter.” It was plumbing work that kept the refinery working. It was honest honorable work and it’s probably one of the least interesting things about him.

The Project

He started collecting autographs in 1966. You can see the first one here, as part of the first entry on the site.  It is the lower item on the page.  It began with his interest in Abraham Lincoln, John Brown, and John F. Kennedy. He was collecting material associated with those three men, mostly stamps and first day covers (FDCs), when he had the idea to begin getting the FDCs autographed. A first day cover is an envelope whose stamp is postmarked on the date of the stamp’s first day of sale and use, usually in a city with some connection to the subject matter of the stamp. Sometimes the envelopes have an illustration — called a cachet — on them. My dad usually drew his own cachets, and started creating cachets featuring someone with a connection to the stamp (sometimes an admittedly tenuous connection) and then would mail the FDC to the person on the cachet and ask that person to sign and return the FDC.

Over the years, he started bypassing the FDC process for most of his autographs and instead sent some other material to the subject to be signed. In most cases, this was a pen and ink portrait of the individual drawn by my father on a 5×7 white card. In all cases he sent the item to be signed with a typed cover letter, and a self-addressed stamped envelope for ease of return. Sometimes he received a reply within a week. Other instances took 2 years. Of course some requests never received a reply and others generated a polite refusal. Some of those will be covered as this site develops. Not all of the autographs feature a personal drawing. During the 1970s Newsweek magazine started  a column called “My Turn,” which featured a different guest columnist each week. We had a subscription and my dad asked every author for that column to autograph a copy of their page. There are about 60-70 of those. Some autographs are on more common items, such as photos, Playbill covers, and such. In a few instances my dad sent the recipient a blank white card and asked the subject to draw something, perhaps a self portrait, and often enough they complied.

In the end my father corresponded with authors, actors, writers, scientists, politicians, philosophers, dancers, clowns (real clowns, not just the politicians), athletes and  even some saints. An amazing number graciously complied with his requests. Many wrote personal notes about his portrait of them. These were usually favorable, but not always. Katherine Hepburn didn’t like one portrait, refused to sign, and returned it with an exhortation to try again. So he did. David Bowie added a comic book style thought bubble. Charles Schulz drew a Snoopy. Marcel Marceau signed my father’s drawing as his character “Bip” and added a photo signed as himself.

The last autograph in the collection is dated 1988, and my father passed away in December 1989.  There are roughly 1400 items in the database, but I do not know exactly how many unique autographs there are some of the items are unsigned, duplicative, or sent by relatives or assistants to the primary subject.  After my Dad passed, my family and I went through his belongings and we found his autograph collection database. Of course, those being the days before personal computers his database consisted of index cards, upon which my father typed the details of the entire collection:

  • the person’s name,
  • the date of mailing the request and receiving the response,
  • usually the address to which the request was sent,
  • the item signed,
  • the full text of what the person wrote, if it was anything more than just a signature,
  • a category

Shortly after finding them, I myself typed them into an actual Filemaker Pro database, although I only kept one date field. I didn’t know why I did it at the time. It just seemed the thing to do. The internet was in its infancy, and building a website to feature the collection was not really on the agenda.

Fast forward about 10-15 years, and by then a website does seem feasible. But there was still a lot of work to be done. WordPress wasn’t around then, and other blogging or CMS systems never seemed right. For one thing, I could not come up with a reliable way to get the data from Filemaker and onto the website. I had some familiarity with Blogger, Movable Type, and Expression Engine, and none of them fit the bill. Finally I recently discovered a WordPress plugin called WP Ultimate CSV Importer. I exported the fields I wanted from Filemaker to an Excel file, which I then manipulated into the order I needed and saved as a CSV and imported every record right into this site.  They are all sitting there, in draft form, waiting to be completed and published.

Meanwhile I’ve been scanning images, very sporadically, for about 4-5 years. I think I have about 600-700 images scanned, with about the same amount to go. I have no idea how long it will take to put them all up, but once it is complete that’s it. The first post made it up in September 2013, 47 years after my father started the collection.

I Am A Pipefitter

So if, as I noted above, the fact that my father was a pipefitter is possibly the least interesting thing about him, why is that the title of the site?

Because it is distinctive.

Because it’s hard to convey the essence or purpose of a site devoted to a unique autograph collection built around one man’s drawings. The very fact that it is unique means there is no acceptable shorthand for what it is.

Because the phrase regularly turned up in the cover letters that my father sent with his requests. As I remember it, the full sentence he used was “I am a pipefitter by trade.” Obviously we do not have most of those letters. A few were returned,  and none of those that I have seen so far include the phrase, but some of the people who signed made mention of my dad being a pipefitter in their annotations, so I’m certain I am not making it up.

And of course the domain was available.

Going Forward

I hope to add a minimum of three entries a week, and considerably more when I have the chance. I will also try to add an index of all the people in the collection. Some entries will simply show the autographed picture with the text of what was written.  Occasionally I will write something myself to accompany the original material. Entries will go up in no particular order, but I will try to offer a mix of the most interesting and less notable each week.

I have no idea if there will be any audience for this beyond sporadic visits due to web searches, so thanks for coming by.

Comments

  1. DARYL (BUTCH) BUTCHER says:

    I am so pleased to see your site. I have scanned several hundred old pictures taken by my uncle and others and have them in the computers here (quadruple backed-up). I am totally unhappy with WordPress but SOMEDAY I might be able to host them on a blog. I have THREE but don’t like any of them Just far too awkward to use. I wish you the best of luck with yours.

  2. Beautiful tribute to your dad. Sounds like he was an amazing man. What a unique piece of history!!!

  3. Mark, this is a fantastic project. I look forward to seeing more of these as you are able to roll them out. I can imagine that your father would be thrilled to have the world see his collection of signatures, and his art too. It is a very nice thing for you to do.

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