The first in the movie series of The Hobbit was called An Unexpected Journey — an apt description of how a rare edition of Tolkien’s classic tale went under the hammer for €29,000 yesterday.

It was a pretty penny more than the seller’s grandfather must have paid for the 1937 copy of The Hobbit at a jumble sale 30 years ago.

She put it into yesterday’s rare books sale by Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers, where bidding began at €16,000, lower than the pre-sale lower estimate of €20,000.

But within a minute, bidding by absentee bidders and prospective buyers in the room at Kilkenny’s Ormonde Hotel, saw the price almost double. With fees and taxes on top of the €29,000 hammer price, the addition to the new owner’s bookshelf will have set him or her back around €35,000.

Auctioneer George Mealy said it is great that the book made close to the top estimate of €30,000.

“There has been immense interest, especially from children when it went on show over last weekend.

“Of course, so many children wanted to view the rare copy thanks to the success of the movie, but there have also been hundreds of adults coming to have a glimpse of it,” he said.

But the auctioneers had at least six genuine bidders, one from an institution, and another based in Hong Kong.

“There has been a lot of interest internationally. This book would be as an important a book as James Joyce’s modernist novel Ulysses,” Mr Mealy said.

All 1,500 copies of this first edition of The Hobbit sold within three months of its release.

The authenticity of the copy sold yesterday is shown by the misspelling of the name Dodgson in the inside back flap blurb, corrected by a line drawn through a misplaced letter ‘e’.

While this was the star attraction from more than 800 lots, an early-printed book of Irish historical interest sold for over double the estimated price.

The 28-page A Narrative of the Settlement and Sale of Ireland, printed at Louvain in 1668, fetched €1,800.

For €100 more than that, a bidder secured a two-page letter from Patrick Pearse to an unknown recipient, written in 1909 on the notepaper of Scoil Éanna in Rathmines.

A two-metre shamrock-decorated political banner with the words ‘Ballybricken for Redmond’ was sold for €580.


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