Fran Keller, the woman behind the Martin Library Celebrity Auction
Fran Keller, Martin Library's director of marketing, shows some of the items that will be on the block for the 16th annual Celebrity Auction. Autographed items from celebrities like Tony Bennett, Johnny Unitas, Tony Blair and other entertainment, sports and political figures are available during the auction Sunday at the library. (Bill Kalina photo - bkalina@yorkdispatch.com)

For Fran Keller, getting the mail is "like Christmas."

That's because Keller, the marketing director at Martin Library, is the mind behind the annual Celebrity Auction.

"You can't beat getting packages in the mail every day," she says. "You open it up and you never know what you're getting."

Now in its 16th year, the auction features more than 300 pieces of memorabilia, most autographed by stars from movies and television, music, sports, politics and, yes, literature.

The auction will get under way at 1 p.m. Sunday with longtime auctioneer Gary Gladfelter calling the lots.

"He donates his time," Keller says, as well as providing all of the bid sheets and other necessary equipment. "I called him right before the first auction and asked if he would consider doing it, and he was absolutely delighted."

Bidding: The volunteer crew staffing the auction aren't the only familiar faces; Keller says over the years she's become friends with "a good core group of bidders." Some who have moved from the York area even call and ask for a stand-in bidder so they can stay in the game.

"Sometimes you'll have two people who came together bidding against each other," she says. "They don't always pay attention to the fact that their partner is bidding."

It's a "lighthearted and real friendly" time for all, she says, a good-natured event rather than a fierce war for items. The auction's purpose might have something to do with that, since bidders know they're shelling out for a good cause.

"All of the money goes to buy children's books," Keller says. "Children are voracious readers. You never see a child go out of the library with one or two books; they're always taking a stack of books, so you've got to constantly get some new things in."

In most years, the auction raises between $4,000 and $5,000 to buy new books for the children's section at Martin Library.

Martin Library Celebrity Auction - Baltimore Colts doll
A Baltimore Colts football doll autographed by Johnny Unitas and Art Donovan will be up for bid Sunday at the Martin Library Celebrity Auction. (Bill Kalina photo - bkalina@yorkdispatch.com)

Preview: Bidders have the opportunity to preview the items in the library's Quiet Reading Room and register to bid between noon and 1 p.m. Sunday, and Keller recommends arriving at noon or soon after. The number of bidders isn't limited, but perusing 300 lots can take a while.

"We have tables the entire length of the room filled with merchandise," she says. "The people who really collect autographs, they want to take a close look at everything."

One of the top sellers this year could be a Baltimore Colts football doll signed by Johnny Unitas, Art Donovan and others. Baseball fans will want to study the World Series items sent by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig; golfers can swing at a 2006 Canadian Open flag signed by Jim Furyk.

"Peter Yarrow from Peter, Paul and Mary sent me a pop-up book of 'Puff the Magic Dragon,'" Keller says. "I expect that to be very popular."

Winning bidders also receive the packaging the items arrived in, which sometimes offers an unexpected bonus. Beetle Bailey cartoonist Mort Walker, who has a signed 8-by-10 drawing in the auction this year, added a comment to his shipment.

"On the outside of the envelope where his return address is, he wrote a note that said 'my assistant actually visited Martin Library,'" Keller says.

Martin Library Celebrity Auction

The 16th annual Martin Library Celebrity Auction opens with a preview at noon Sunday and bidding at 1 p.m. in the Quiet Reading Room at the library, 159 E. Market St., York.

More than 300 items are up for bid. Visit www.yorklibraries.org to see a full list.

For more information, call Fran Keller at (717) 846-5300, ext. 225.

- Reach Mel Barber at mbarber@yorkdispatch.com.