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 (see allography). The meaning overlaps with that of the word holograph.
In East Asia, an autograph from 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 child's activity 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 (especially on personal checks).
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, baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr., singers J.C. Chasez, Alanis Morissette, Amber Rose, Jessica Simpson, Frankie Valli, and the members of Green Day, actors like Drew Carey, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, director Steven Spielberg, 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 the hobby of autograph collecting worth-while.
Many people however, are not willing to distribute their signature- at least not for free. Entertainers like this include Cameron Diaz, Bruce Willis, Tobey Maguire, and Britney Spears. Sports personalities include most baseball players, such as the majority of the New York Yankees, the late Joe Dimaggio, and most notoriously, Barry Bonds. Other sports stars that try to avoid signing whenever possible are Bill Russell, who does not sign at all, and most NBA stars with huge contracts. The legendary Michael Jordan, would not and could not sign for most of his career because people were putting each other's safety at risk by scrambling to get the icon's autograph that is worth at least hundreds of dollars. Jordan however, has frequently signed at the more peaceful environments, such as golf tournaments. It is also a scramble to get Michael Jackson's autograph. A typical scenario is hundreds of fans in a crush waiting by Jackson's hotel, and Jackson signing five or ten autographs in the midst of rushing to his vehicle.
During the 1990s, many people started forging celebrity autographs and selling them as real, necessitating the involvement of the FBI. This enraged some celebrities, who would just stop signing autographs for everyone or sign exclusive deals for companies to distribute their autographs, to make sure everyone who got an autograph by paying for it was getting a real autograph and not a fake one.
Many dealers also would wait for hours for a celebrity to come out of the place were they were, put 25 photos in front of them for the celebrity to sign and then sell 24 of them. Other dealers would locate the celebrity's home address and write to them asking for autographs multiple times. The celebrities, of course, grow tired of that and make it a point to sign only one autograph per person. Although one would not expect that one could remember for whom one has signed at different times through the mail, boxer George Foreman has a peculiar way of knowing: he records the names and addresses in his personal computer of every person that writes him asking for an autograph, 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 wants more of them.
Some of the most popular categories of persons to collect autographs from are: sports and movie stars, teen idols, singers and music groups, political, social and religious leaders, scientists, astronauts and authors.