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A painting, which might be a 1910 self-portrait by Adolf Hitler, was sold at auction in England on Thursday for about $18,000. ((Mullock's Auctioneers/Associated Press photo))

What a British auction house claims are a set of paintings and sketches by a young Adolf Hitler sold Thursday at auction in England for the equivalent of almost $177,000.

Among the 15 pictures sold at Ludlow Racecourse in Stropshire is a portrait of solitary figure dressed in brown peering into wine-coloured waters. The date is 1910, the signature reads "A. Hitler" and scribbled just over the mysterious figure are the letters: "A.H."

Is this a portrait of the Fuehrer as a young man?

"I don't think they're fakes. I don't think any hoaxer would have had the bottle to continue, given the global publicity about this," said Richard Westwood-Brookes, historical documents expert at Mullock's Auctioneers that carried out the sale.

The portrait sold for about $18,000. The buyer John Ratledge, 46, said he planned to hang it at home or in his office.

Westwood-Brookes said the paintings were sold to the current vendor, who is not identified, by a soldier serving with Britain's Royal Manchester Regiment in 1945, when it was stationed in the German city of Essen.

Best known as the genocidal dictator who butchered millions in his quest to unite Europe under German rule, Hitler also had a largely unsuccessful career as an artist in his early years. He is believed to have painted hundreds of pieces, although most art critics have been unmoved.

Westwood-Brookes acknowledged that the pieces were "hardly Picasso," but – concerns over authenticity aside – Hitler's works had a track record of attracting high bids.

In 2006, watercolours and sketches attributed to the Nazi leader raised more than $205,000 at an auction in the small town of Lostwithiel in southwestern England.

Another batch of purported Hitler paintings will come up for auction in the German city of Nuremberg later this month.

Even if it were proven genuine beyond a doubt, the Hitler watercolour would not be the first self-portrait of the Nazi dictator that has been discovered.

In 1987, the late historian Werner Maser said he had unearthed an oil portrait of Hitler executed in 1925. Maser, who wrote several Hitler biographies, told The Associated Press at the time that the painting showed Hitler in traditional Bavarian dress with short trousers and long white socks.