I've been collecting autographs for over twenty years. I've been seeking autographs for even longer. What I mean by that is that I started seeing autographs on baseball cards and photos when I was in elementary and middle school. I really just liked looking at the penmenship and the styles of each one, but unfortunately, none of those were mine. It wasn't until a chance meeting with Toronto Blue Jays second baseman, Roberto Alomar (now a baseball Hall of Famer) that I was finally able to get my first autograph. He was walking by a fence at Grant Field in Dunedin, Florida while the Jays were having a spring training game. I was a Little Leaguer at the time, and the only thing I had on me was a really scuffed up Little League baseball. I gave it to him, he signed it, returned it back and took the field. A beat up baseball just became a link between me and Roberto Alomar forever. I was hooked.
So what exactly is an autograph?
There are dozens of ways a person can "leave their mark." Some of the most simple forms are leaving an "X", initials, or printing. Leaving an "X" is probably the most primitive way to leave your mark. While this is rarely done anymore, this was very common as illiteracy was much higher than what it is is today. With that being said, even something as simple as an "X" can vary from person to person. Initials are commonly used on items that have some importance such as memos, or legal and medical documents. They are usually used as a sort of quick identifier and are followed up by some thing like a full printed name and/ or a signature. Printing a name is the most clear and precise way of putting your name on something, but it is very basic and doesn't really have a whole lot of flair.
A person's signature is usually the most definitive way to leave your written mark. It involves cursive writing that conjoins the different letters of your name together. It involves writing your name in one or two strokes. It's one of the most natural way of not only writing your name, but it gives an insight to the signers own personal traits. A signature is almost exactly like an autograph, however, technically they are two different forms of writing.
When it comes to leaving a written mark, an autograph is the creme-de-creme of artistic expression. Just like a signature, an autograph is writing your name with usually one or two consecutive strokes. It is also an insight to the signers own personal traits, however an autograph generally has other values.
A signature must be someone's legal name, while an autograph can be a nick-name. How many autographed baseballs are their from George Herman Ruth as opposed to Babe Ruth? Or what about Terry Bolea versus Hulk Hogan?
An autograph also adds artistry. Celebrities and athletes often like to include inscriptions, their nickname, number, list an accomplishment, or personalize it for the requester (Best Wishes, My #1 Fan, Happy Birthday, etc.). This can really add value as to the overall experience and in my opinion, is an extra step in ensuring the authenticity of an autograph.
Why do people collect autographs?
Essentially, it is a small work of art. Just like other works-of-art, an autograph can carry a tremendous amount of value, both monetary and emotionally. Just like anything else in life, it is about being at the right place at the right time, in the right frame of mind and being courteous and respectful. If often takes years and sometimes even decades to get the autograph you've been seeking out. One of my most prized collectibles is a 16x20 Wade Boggs photo that I won in a raffle as a Little Leaguer in 1988. I had this thing on my wall "unsigned" for over ten years. I held onto it for over 10 years before hearing that he was doing an autograph signing in St. Petersburg, Florida. I was working that day, so my brother offered to get it signed for me. I was ecstatic to finally get it signed. It's been in a nice frame ever since.
As I've gotten older, the "Starstruck" feeling is still there, just on a lesser note. To me, an autograph is a link between the fan and the celebrity or athlete that can last a lifetime and can even be passed on from generation to generation.