A PICTURE of the original Hardy Players is going under the hammer on the other side of the pond.

The image captures the cast of the great Dorset writer Thomas Hardy’s acting troupe for the dramatisation of The Return of the Native in 1921.

It was bought by Hardy enthusiast Tom Potter, who lives in Virginia in America but has family ties in Dorchester, and will form part of a collection of Hardy-related material on sale at Bonhams Auction House in New York on October 10.

The picture is signed by Gertrude Bugler, the actress who proved a controversial figure, with Hardy’s wife Emma growing jealous of the pair’s close relationship.

Gertrude’s sister Norrie, later Norrie Woodhall, played a key role in reforming the Hardy Players some 80 years later and was reckoned to be the last living link to Hardy before she died last year at the age of 105.

Tom’s dad was born in the county town but served in America during the Second World War and the family emigrated there in 1947.

However, he and his father visited the area regularly and became keen Hardy collectors.

They discovered the picture in the window of the old HV Day’s bookstore in Dorchester in the early 1960s and Tom, now 74, was determined to buy it.

He said the picture was well known by passers-by and helped draw people into the store.

But he was able to persuade the owner to part with it and has been the proud owner of it for around half a century at his home in Haymarket, Virginia.

Tom said: “It was a great picture for anybody to see and drew people into the bookstore.

“I bought it from him and every time I went back afterwards I would go and see him and he would say he’s had so many enquiries about what happened to this picture.”

Father-of-two Tom decided now is the right time to part with the picture as well as other Hardy artefacts he had collected.

He said: “I wouldn’t have parted with it but my boys don’t know the significance of it.”

Tom said there was plenty of interest in Hardy in America and he was hoping to get at least a four-figure sum for his lots.

He said: “There is a lot of interest here and all the big universities have Hardy courses so it’s very popular.”