An autograph is a person's own signature or handwriting. The term is used particularly in connection with the collecting of autographs of celebrities; the hobby of collecting autographs is known as "philography".
Realizing the potential profit in the sale of pop culture autographs, many dealers also would wait for hours for a celebrity to emerge from a location, present several photos for the celebrity to sign and then sell most of them. Michael Jackson's experience was typical; he often signed just a handful of autographs as he rushed from his hotel to his vehicle. Some collectors take note of which celebrities are the most gracious or the least forthcoming. Some dealers would locate a celebrity's home address and write to them repeatedly asking for autographs. The celebrities soon grew tired of the practice and limited their responses. Because of the many autographs a celebrity might sign over time, some check requests against a record of past requests. Boxer George Foreman, for instance, records the names and addresses of every person requesting an autograph to limit such abuses. Some famous people flatly refuse to autograph anything for fans, such as the actors Paul Newman and Greta Garbo, and the aviator Charles A. Lindbergh.
All of the Union and Confederate generals from the American Civil War have had their signatures forged. Many were faked during the 1880s, a period that included the fad of aging soldiers in collecting Civil War autographs. Most deceptions were of mere signatures on a small piece of paper, but extensively written letters were forged as well. Autograph collectors should be cautious of clipped signatures. The bogus autograph is glued onto an authentic steel-engraved portrait of the subject. Some steel engravings may have reprinted the autograph of the portrayed subject; this is known as a facsimile autograph, and it may appear to be real.
In many instances, sellers will use a professional authenticator to determine the authenticity of the material they wish to bring to market. The autograph industry is currently contentiously split between two types of authenticators: those who rely upon their professional expertise and experience personally having collected and/or sold large inventories of autographs over a period of many years such as the consultants at (ACOA), and "forensic examiners" who rely on academic credentials. Disputes have led to court actions, most notably gallery owner American Royal Arts vs. Beatles autograph dealer Frank Caiazzo, often used by autograph sources such as RR Auction.
Mastro Auctions, a major sports autograph auction house which used a professional authenticator, was sued by a dealer in 2006 (Bill Daniels v. Mastro Auctions, Boone County, Indiana, case #06D01-0502 -PL- 0060). Daniels said that he had bought more than 2,000 signed photographs of athletes from Mastro and claimed that the catalog incorrectly described them as all being in color and 8" x 10" in size. Daniels also claimed that some of the autographs on the photographs may have been fakes. He produced two dealers who he said were autograph experts, but Superior Court Judge Matthew C. Kincaid excluded their testimony saying that neither Steve Koschal nor Richard Simon "possess sufficient skill, knowledge or experience in the fields in which they were asked to render opinions." The law for each state is different regarding qualifications to testify. Mr. Simon and Mr. Koschal have both testified in states where their testimony is accepted in court.