An autograph is a document written entirely in the handwriting of its author, as opposed to a typeset document or one transcribed by an amanuensis or a copyist. The meaning overlaps with that of the word holograph.
As the word is used by non-historians, it has come to mean a person's signature. This term is used in particular for the practice of collecting autographs of celebrities.
In East Asia, an autograph from a famous gentry is regarded as an honour. The value of an item bearing a high official's autograph could rise incredibly. In ancient dynasty of China, an autograph from an emperor of that dynasty was priceless but selling an item bearing it could be an offensive crime.
In Europe and North America, asking for a celebrity's autograph used to be seen as a kid's practice up to only a few decades ago. The boom of collecting autographs as a hobby came during the 1980s, and, as a consequence, many memorabilia dealers took notice, and what used to be an innocent hobby lost that innocence as both dealers and celebrities began to charge money for their signatures.
It should be noted that many celebrities, like boxers Lennox Lewis, Muhammad Ali, Wilfredo Gomez, Wilfredo Benitez, Hector 'Macho' Camacho, Sugar Ray Leonard and Julio Cesar Chavez, singers J.C. Chasez (OF NSYNC fame), Alanis Morissette, Amber Rose, Frankie Valli, and the members of Green Day, actors like Drew Carey, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, former President Bill Clinton as well as many other celebrities, still love signing autographs for free for the fans, keeping it a very interesting hobby to this day. Hilary Duff has gone as far as publicly lashing out at some of her fellow teen idol stars who avoid autograph collectors. Art Carney was another person who enjoyed signing autographs, until his passing in November of 2003. It is people like these who make taking autograph collecting as a hobby worth-while.
During the 1990s, many people started forging celebrity autographs and selling them as real. This enraged some of the celebrities, who would just stop signing autographs for everyone or sign exclusive deals with companies to distribute their autographs, to make sure everyone who got their autographs by paying for it was getting a real autograph and not a fake one.
Many dealers also would wait for the celebrity to come out of the place were they were at for hours, and then put 25 photos in front of them for the celebrity to sign and then in turn, the dealer could sell 24 of them. Other dealers also would find the celebrity's home address and write them asking for autographs multiple times. The celebrities, of course, sometimes grow tired of that and make it a point to sign only 1 autograph per person, and in the mail case, although there is no way they could all use to know who have they signed for at multiple times through the mail, boxer George Foreman has a peculiar way of knowing: He keeps the names and addresses of every person who writes him asking for an autograph in his personal computer, so that whenever he receives a letter, he will know if the person is a fan who admires him or just a dealer who wants to sell his autographs and needs more of them.
Regarding the forgeries, many of the dealers who did that began selling the fake autographs to customers in many states, so the FBI had to get involved in many cases.
But autograph collecting is more than just getting an autograph from that celebrity. Whether you get it in person or by mail, you know that by interacting with that person and letting them know you're a fan, you are creating yourself a moment in life you will never forget, especially when the celebrity is friendly and appreciates the attention, which is in most of the cases.
Some of the most popular areas to collect autographs are: sports, movie stars, teen idols, singers and music groups, political and religious leaders, writers, astronauts and racial leaders.
Among American stars, about 50 percent of them like signing, and among Hispanics almost 100 percent of them don't have a problem with signing either. Asians are OK signers too, and the European celebrities are generally considered very good signers too.
Autograph collecting as a hobby is slowly but steadily reaching a world-wide frenzy.