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Page last updated at 13:45 GMT, Wednesday, 9 September 2009 14:45 UK
Postcards were Edwardian 'texts'
A postcard of the ballroom at Belle Vue from 1910
Edwardian postcards came in a "huge variety of topics and subjects"

Texting and Tweeting are the epitome of modern communications, but it seems the phenomena could be over a century old.

Research by Manchester Metropolitan and Lancaster Universities has shown the Edwardians to be keen social networkers.

Dr Julia Gillen said that "picture postcards were something like the Twitter of the Edwardian age."

The postcards were particularly popular thanks to a frequent postal service which allowed almost instant delivery.

"The amazing thing is that in some towns, there were six or more deliveries a day," explained Dr Gillen.

A cartoon postcard from 1904 showing a joke made about Arsenal and Manchester City's cup tie
One that someone sent home to their mum [says] 'If George is not coming today, our George will come and fetch the peelings and bring you a bit of pork, so don't get any meat'
Dr Julia Gillen

"So you could send one home and get a reply back while you were still at work. You could add your own little message on the back, as you do today in a text or a Tweet, send it off and it would get to the person really quickly.

"People sent them not just from holidays, like we do today, but also to people on holiday. They were just constantly sending them backwards and forwards, it was an absolute craze."

The frequency isn't the only similarity to texts and Tweets the postcards had, as Dr Gillen said the messages they carried were also surprisingly familiar in tone, even if the subject matter was a little different.

"One that someone sent home to their mum [says] 'If George is not coming today, our George will come and fetch the peelings and bring you a bit of pork, so don't get any meat'."

"They were informal, they weren't like a letter. People thought they still had to write properly in letters, but in postcards, they were writing to friends, so they're full of abbreviations and things that would only be understood between them, like codes or mirror writing - you might hide a saucy message by doing it in mirror writing."

And just like the text bundles and inexpensive Internet access have allowed us to go message crazy in the 21st Century, price and choice were also factors that led to the early 20th Century postcard craze.

"They were extraordinarily cheap. In 1902, they became very cheap and there was a huge variety of topics and subjects; not just the areas and pictures that we get today, but any kind of thing - comic, serious, humorous, celebrities.

"You could send a postcard of your favourite celebrity or even of your bishop, more or less whoever you wanted.

Detail of a 1905 postcard of Didsbury
The postcard craze died out after the First World War

Six billion cards were sent between 1902 and 1910, but then the trend died out quickly across the next decade.

Quite why it faded away when so many people were having so much fun sending messages could be put down to the monumental moment in history that was just around the corner, but Dr Gillen thinks there may also be a simpler reason.

"One reason [for their popularity] was because there were so many postmen. Three quarters of the people who worked for the Civil Service worked for the Post Office.

"Then the First World War and after it, there was a shortage of labour and postcards became more expensive, so that impacted on the trend.

"But it was also partially because the craze just finished.

"It was a craze after all, and I'm sure in a few years time, Twitter will also be overtaken by other things."

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