Comments 26

Fragments of a letter to be identified…

“Frank B” one of our readers has asked me to put these fragments of a WW1 letter he has in his possession to see if people agree with him it may have been written by The Baz. Apparently he doesn’t want to put up the whole letter at this time but he tells me he has selected the part that contains family references which might help identification. I’ve given it its own post because if I put it in the comments it will get lost in the tangle. Frank would like feedback so feel free to comment.

And here for comparison is a sample of Rathbone’s actual handwriting:

BTW – does anyone know what that last word is before the signature? I assumed it was “son” but it doesn’t look like it at all.

And why (if it is Baz) is he signing himself “PSB” and not “Basil”?

Update– according to reader Greg Rathbone (no relation he says) the Baz did indeed have an uncle Harold and an aunt Elfrida. The latter seems such an unusual name that IMO it’s fairly reasonable to think the letter could be from him.

Here’s some info about Basil’s uncle Harold:

Birth: 10 May 1858, Liverpool, Lancashire (Ratbone Register). This date is also listed in the IGI, based on a member submission without information as to source, and by Foster (1890). There is a GRO births index entry for the Jun quarter of 1858 (W. Derby, 8b, 282).
Christening: not known.
Death: 12 Dec 1929, Haydock Lodge, Haydock, Newton le Willows, Lancs. (Ratbone Register). The same date is listed in the IGI, based on a member submission with no details as to source. There is a GRO deaths index entry for the Dec quarter of 1929 (Warrington, 8c, 158), giving his age as 71.
Burial: not known
Occupation: artist / potter, designer, painter & poet.
Father: Philip Henry RATHBONE(752) (1828-1895).
Mother: Jane Stringer STEWARD(189) (1833-1905).

Harold is mentioned a number of times by Robinson (1992) She describes him as the wild unstable artist, who nevertheless managed to remain his mother’s favourite and also of his aunt Leonie. Robinson writes that Harold had poor eyesight, and eventually went blind. He studied at the Slade under Alphonse Legros (who was Slade professor from 1876 to 1892). He then worked for three years for Ford Maddox Brown towards the end of the latter’s career, mainly on the series of 12 large murals in the Manchester Town Hall which were designed to show the history of the city. It is said that Harold was the model for John of Gaunt in the mural of the Trial of Wycliffe in 1377 can be found, together with the other 11 murals, on the Manchester page of the Arts and Crafts Home.

And Elfrida:
Elfrida Lilian Rathbone Born, according to the IGI, on 12 Jul 1871 at Liverpool, and died on 23 Apr 1940. The corresponding entries in the GRO index are births in the Sep quarter of 1871 (W. Derby, 8b, 243, and deaths in the Jun quarter of 1940 (Henley, 3a, 2479). In the 1881 Wales census she was 9, a boarder at Sea View, Llanfair Fechan, Caernarvon, Wales, together with her sister Ethel, aged 11. In the 1891 England census she was a 19 year old visitor (guest) at the Rothay Hotel, Grasmere, Westmorland. In the 1901 England census, aged 29, she was at Greenbank Cottage, Toxteth Park, Liverpool, the family home, with her widowed mother Jane S. Rathbone, 67. Also in the house were her brother Herbert and a one-year-old grand-daughter Lorna(?).

Both courtesy of the link Greg kindly provided below. if any more interesting information develops I will let you know.


  1. GRETCHEN says


    I read MANY years-ago somewhere online that Cynthia died from a CHRONIC illness/disease, but I don’t remember what it WAS, exactly. It was something I BELIEVE she’d suffered from since childhood, and so most LIKELY Basil was worried TERRIBLY for her…he was probably paying ALL her medical bills, and was QUICKLY running-out of money by the end of his OWN life. It was, to my knowledge, a disorder which ALWAYS ended in death at a young age. I feel SORRY that Ouida had to bury both Basil AND Cynthia only 2 YEARS apart. What a TRAGEDY for their family and friends. 😦

    If I CAN, I’ll post any info. on her death that I discover HERE on this blog, so you can find it more easily. THANKS for asking for my assistance…it’s NICE to be of help to someone! πŸ™‚


  2. GRETCHEN says

    On “basilrathbone.net”, you can find transcripts of a few of his war-letters. You’ll see an icon on the left-hand side of the homepage, with the word “biography” under it— if you click on this, it will take you to his bio-page…at the very BOTTOM of that page are links to other pages. Click on the one called: “Basil Rathbone and The Great War”. This shows a LOT of info. on his life during those years, and what he was going through, as well as the letters. I also remember seeing photos of the ACTUAL letters somewhere, but cannot find them at this time! If I do, I’ll let you know. Hope this HELPS!! πŸ™‚

    I read that he was referred-to as “2nd Lt. Philip St. John Basil Rathbone” while in the Military…of course, this was his LEGAL name, and in the Military that’s what they GO by—NOT necessarily because he actually USED that name when casually around his friends/family. However, he WAS already acting prior to the war, and MAY have used Basil as his stage-name, which I mentioned earlier in the above comment. So, who KNOWS?? He DOES kind-of look like a Philip…but, MUCH more like a Basil!! I’ve often thought about what his reaction might have been, had I gone-up to him one day on-set and said: “HI, Philip! How’s it GOIN’?”— he’d probably be SHOCKED to hear someone call him that, and might wonder how I KNEW his name!! It MAY have even gotten him to NOTICE me, and think I was CUTE, or something— which COULD have led to a date…NAH! πŸ™‚

    On a rather SAD note, I’ve always felt sorry he didn’t have more than JUST “Basil Rathbone” and the years of his birth and death (1892-1967) on his gravestone in the mausoleum at Ferncliff Cemetery. (I mean, he at LEAST deserved to have either “WWI Veteran”, “beloved husband and father”, the “happy/sad masks” actors’-symbol OR a Christian cross, AND the actual DATES of his birth and death on there! Or, maybe a short-poem he’d loved…SOMETHING.) The reason this didn’t happen, most likely, was because of how EXPENSIVE it would have been to pay for the extra lettering/drawings…he got the WORST, cheapest plot there (WAY up-high in the top of the wall, stuck in a back-corner of a DREARY building), and SO did his wife, right next-to his. At the time of his death, he was basically BROKE, so Ouida bought whatever was the LEAST costly. I read several years ago that his friends had to HELP PAY for the service and burial…it was THAT bad. How HUMILIATING! And, although he HAD wanted to be buried ABOVE ground, he’d also mentioned how much Ferncliff reminded him of England’s beautiful countryside…this leads me to believe he would have RATHER been buried in a CRYPT somewhere in the gardens, which would have been EXTREMELY pricey. He probably didn’t have much if ANY life-insurance when he died (as POOR as he was), so Ouida went-with whatever was available at the time in the mausoleum, instead. As LITTLE as she’d cared about him in LIFE, I’m sure she wouldn’t have spent much to honor him in DEATH! She’d BLOWN all his money until the stress of his working SO hard to pay the bills forced him to make that LAME-O movie in Mexico, which ended-up causing his death due to the effects of altitude-sickness…GOOD-JOB, Ouida!! 😦


    • Susan Guntag says

      Gretchen I am looking for information about how Cynthia Rathbone died, can you help? I have been searching for any leads but always draw a blank.


  3. GRETCHEN says

    This is DEFINITELY Basil’s handwriting…the MOST notable thing he did when writing, which I’ve NEVER seen anyone ELSE ever do, is the way he CONNECTED several words together, into ONE. You’ll notice this in ALL his letters. Most likely he adopted this style as a rather “lazy” way of going-about putting things down quickly.

    A person’s handwriting DOES change slightly over several years, so SMALL differences here and there would be NORMAL, especially since the time-gap between the WWI letters and the ’50s letters is so HUGE. But, the basic style and use of wording a person writes with DOES NOT change, and we can see this SAME style throughout Basil’s lifetime of written-documents.

    As for adding “scion” to the close of this letter, he WAS a scion. (It basically means: to be the child of an important, wealthy, or aristocratic family— a descendant or heir, the young member of a family.) Perhaps this is just one way he’d sign his letters when being more formal. (Or, it could have been his wry sense of HUMOR…he often added witty-things into many of his war-letters, to keep those at home amused— and to downplay the UTTER HORROR of what he witnessed every day on the battlefield.) So, in this case, it would be as though he were signing: “Your Loving Offspring”. I have a feeling it was NOT meant to be humorous at ALL; just a dignified and proper way people may have said things in those days.

    The FINAL item I will address about the letter, is “PSB”. I’ve seen excerpts from some of his OTHER war-letters, which were signed in this way. These were simply his FORMAL initials— his birth-name was: “Philip St. John Basil Rathbone”. Therefore, his initials were “PSB”. He MAY have gone-by the name Philip at home when he was younger, BEFORE he became an actor…or perhaps he ALWAYS used his middle-name, Basil. A lot of people DO, if it sounds better than their FIRST name. Some of his previous ancestors had been named both Philip AND Basil, so I guess he was named after THEM. One who was named “Basil” died as a small child, I believe. (FUN-FACT: Vincent Price’s kids BOTH use their middle-names as FIRST names— his son is named “Vincent”, but goes-by “Barrett”…his daughter’s named “Mary” after her mom, and goes-by “Victoria”; so as not to get confused with their PARENTS, most likely!!) But, when signing a letter back then, it was common-practice to use one’s initials like that, sometimes. (I don’t believe he ever LEGALLY changed his first-name to “Basil”…he just used it as his STAGE name, and it was what everyone KNEW him by, so he kept it that way for the REST of his life.)

    Okay…I’m DONE, now! πŸ™‚


    • Gail says

      I would so like to read Basil’s war letters! Are they published anywhere?


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  5. Kendra says

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  6. Frank B says

    I think the word is son but written awkwardly. I also think the writing is definitely Rathbone’s. I’ve made a comparison jpeg if the webmaster would like to upload it.


  7. yea,i cannot decide what the heck that last word is.maybe basil was in a hurry when he wrote this.could he have accidently misspelled son.
    i for one misspell,very obvious to all on this site!
    agree with it looking like the word scion.
    this is stretching it further,but,could it be a famliy nick name they had for him?a loving term?
    i do not speak a foreign language.could it also be be a term used in another language?


  8. Could the word be “scion”? As in the heir or oldest son of a family? Seems a bit weird to describe yourself like that though.


  9. Molly says

    I think the writing is Basil’s. Look at the word ‘letter’ in both examples. And the word ‘so’. And the ‘D’ in ‘Dear’, and the ‘B’ in ‘PSB’ And just the general spacing of the letters.


    • ah, but then look at the word ‘family’ which to me looks quite different in each sample.


    • thanks to you molly i am going to brave my opinion.i agree very strongly with the D.i can also go with the B.
      this from looking at the examples here,e-bay and the photo sample i have{unverified }.but, still because of it. i see the S in sunday looking the same as the S written in shearer on the picture i have.
      let me stress, in no way am an expert!


  10. i cannot confirm or verify the writing on the picture i have ,with basil and norma shearer .i think,if allowable,i have a thought about the PSB.since it was ww1.could it have something to do with basil rank?he refers to himself in his autobiography ,on page 12,as private rathbone.he was also in the liverpool scottish,second battalion.


    • Actually that’s an excellent idea, I will find one and do just that. And a collector has messaged me to say the names aren’t really enough to prove the attribution on their own, especially as the signature is so non-standard (sorry Frank!)

      Edit: and it’s done


    • I don’t have the whole letter. Mr B just sent the scans I’ve published. He says it’s very short though and not that interesting per se, only for the potential Rathbone connection


  11. Frank B says

    Thank you mr Rathbone! This was all I needed to know. are you a relative of Basil?


  12. I’m no handwriting expert, but I think this looks like Basil Rathbone’s handwriting. I wonder if he had an uncle Harold and aunt Elfrida. I don’t remember reading about them. Has anyone researched his family tree?


  13. “Beas letter”, “Uncle Harold” and “Aunt ????”… I have no idea. I haven’t seen any letters from him signed that way, neither. I hope someone has a clue!


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