The Picture Postcard was an extraordinarily popular innovation at the beginning of the twentieth century in Europe, enabling writers to send brief, multimodal messages through a cheap communications channel, in a ‘culture of speed’ (Keep 2001). With several deliveries a day, this could be experienced as closer to the synchronicity of the digital communications than vernacular written communications in the intervening period. I examine the writing of ten British Edwardian picture postcards from a collection of three thousand. Analysis of the writing, writtenness and multimodality (Lillis and McKinney this volume) of the postcards is combined with historical investigations of public records. Through this innovative approach to the construction of text histories, I demonstrate the value of applying the ethnographic sensibility of Literacy Studies to these communications that accomplished diverse and rich purposes and explore connections with claims made about contemporary digital practices.