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The picture postcard at the beginning of the twentieth century: Instagram, Snapchat or selfies of an earlier age?

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Abstract

At the beginning of the twentieth century the picture postcard exploded into popular use in ways that are paralleled by social media today. For the first time a newly literate population had access to a cheap, attractive and colourful means of sending a short message that would arrive within hours. Postcards were used by people in every sector of society. This chapter discusses the only format allowed by the British Post Office for picture postcards in 1901-1902. The whole of one side was taken by the address, with the other featuring an image and a small space for a message to be written in the margin or across the picture. Images could be selected from a vast range, including memes popular today, or were commissioned or created by the sender. Written messages fulfilled diverse purposes. The affordances of that era’s picture postcard overlap with those of contemporary social media.