A FIRST edition of The Hobbit has sold for almost £60,000 at auction in Dorchester.

The incredibly rare find was discovered after a consultant from Duke's Auctioneers made a routine valuation of books at a resident's house in Dorset.

J.R.R. Tolkien's award-winning fantasy novel, which sold at auction for £59,800 inclusive of fees, was published on 21 September 1937, with 1,500 copies printed - selling out by December 15 that year.

All pictures supplied by Duke's Auctioneers

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Tolkien began work on his more popular work, The Lord of the Rings, in December 1937.

A spokeswoman from Duke's Auctioneers, said: "The vendors had no idea they had such a valuable book on their shelves until Duke’s book consultant carried out a routine valuation at their house in Dorset.

"They don’t know how the book came into their possession, but it's tempting to speculate that they acquired it because Tolkien regularly spent holidays in Lyme Regis, close to the family home.

"It's also possible the family were given it by a distant relative, Maurice Evan Hare (1886-1967) - who was a prodigious writer of limericks.

"When we called the owners after the sale they were delighted and flabbergasted at the result.

"They couldn’t believe the book with a slightly tatty dust jacket had just sold to an overseas buyer for over £50,000.

"In a text message to the specialist the vendor said they remember reading that very copy when they were young and it was the first serious book they read."

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The The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, or simply known as The Hobbit, sold for a hammer price of £46,000 without inclusive fees as part of the Duke's Autumn Fine Art Auction - with the buyer from the east coast of the United States.

The story is set within Tolkien's fictional universe of Middle Earth and follows the quest of home-loving Bilbo Baggins, the titular hobbit from The Shire, to win a share of the treasure guarded by Smaug the dragon. Bilbo's journey takes him from his light-hearted, rural surroundings into more sinister territory alongside his companion Gandalf the Grey.

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Head of sale of the auction, Rufus Bird, said: "There was strong international pre-sale interest. I had contact with buyers in Europe and the USA as soon as the sale was launched online.

"This result shows how much demand there is not only for Tolkien’s works but also for unseen works fresh to the market."

Duke’s Auctioneers is now inviting entries for its next fine art auction in the new year.

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