The postal service was basically a very early form of the internet - and postboxes were the modems that connected us with the world. The only difference? Bandwidth is limited to the number of deliveries in any given day - and that if you got into an acrimonious spat with someone rather than simply tweeting swearwords or subtweeting, you had to sign off your brutal smackdown with a "Yours Sincerely".
So perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that the iconic red boxes, of which there are still well over 100,000 in operation, are also weirdly fascinating to David Chandler from Morecambe, who has an unusual hobby: Photographing postboxes.
He's a man on a mission: He's trying to assemble photos of every single postbox in Britain. And you can follow him on his quest in real time - as well as check out some classic Victorian wall boxes - on his Facebook and Twitter pages.
— Postbox Collection (@postboxcollect) November 28, 2016
To find out more, David was kind enough to answer some of our questions - mercifully, via email. Because frankly, we're not even entirely sure where you have to go to buy a stamp.
Giz: Can you tell me the story of how you started "collecting" postboxes - and why you started the FB page and Twitter accounts?
David: I have always been interested in history and particularly everyday objects, which people pass by and pay little attention to. I had been writing a number of pieces for my local paper on history and I thought postboxes would make a good subject, so I did a bit of research and made a short video about the boxes in my area (Morecambe, in Lancashire - watch below.)
I also photographed a few boxes to go with the article. When I was archiving the photos, I realised I had taken quite a few others over the years and I had the basis of a little collection. I created an album on my personal Facebook page and started to regularly add more. As it grew, I decided to set-up a dedicated page and that's where 'Postbox Collection' started!
Giz: Do you have a more organised database or anything to collect photos into as well? What do you plan to do with the assembled data?
David: I am a member of the Letter Box Study Group and they produce a wealth of reference material, including a spreadsheet with details of every box in the UK. I mark off all of my 'finds' on this and also notify them of any major changes - for example if a box disappears. They also produce guides to identifying boxes - there are around 800 types!
David's 'anonymous' box in Morecambe.
Giz: Do you have a favourite postbox?
David: I am very fond of the Victorian box near where I live. It is an 'anonymous' box. So called because it was made between 1879-1887, during a period when the royal cypher [the Royal stamp on the box - which is most commonly "ER" but is "VR" in this case] was left off the front of the box. They are quite rare and the example in Bare, Morecambe, Lancashire is a larger 'type A' box and in fine condition. It's romantic to think that people have been posting letters there in the same box for all those years.
An Edward VIII Box.
I also have a bit of a thing for Edward VIII Ludlow wall boxes - as they are very rare. I try and visit them and make a little video of my trip. It's a bit of fun and you meet nice people!
A Ludlow wall box.
Giz: Are there any special rare postboxes that enthusiasts are particularly keen on?
David: A lot of postbox enthusiasts like Penfold boxes - these are Victorian boxes which many consider to be a design classic. They were introduced in 1866 and designed by an architect called John Penfold. There are surviving examples dotted around the country. Some are replicas though, but still beautiful objects. One was unveiled in London last September by Prince Charles, to mark 500 years of the postal service.
The Penfold Box.
Boxes from the reign of Edward VIII are very rare, as he was only king for 10 months, before he abdicated. The highest concentrations are in London and Glasgow, but examples can be found in a number of different places in the UK - there are even two on the Isle of Mull!
I like the gold boxes [painted for the Olympics] and they seem very popular with a lot of people - particularly tourists. They are also the only box you can photograph without people thinking you're doing something a bit odd!
Giz: Do you think there's still a place for postboxes in the modern world? Could they soon go the way of phone boxes?
David: The Royal Mail have pledged to preserve our postal heritage and have been undertaking a programme to maintain the historic boxes in their portfolio. There are many now boasting a fresh coat of paint and they look resplendent.
This year will also see the opening of The Postal Museum in London, which is sure to raise interest amongst the general public.
But boxes do disappear for one reason or another (road accident is a common cause) and of course their use is declining. I would like to think their future is secure, but I'm sure in 20 years time there will not be as many as now. Although Royal Mail have recently announced 100s of new boxes are to be installed in Scotland and Northern Ireland, so who knows?
Giz: Have Royal Mail or the Post Office reacted to your work?
David: I have been sent photos of boxes from postmen and women around the country (when they are off duty!) and even one of the guys who paints them sends me photos of the boxes he's just finished. Quite a lot of posties are interested in the history and variety of boxes - they see them every day but don't know the story behind them, so they are keen to know more. Others are very knowledgable indeed.
Giz: Do you think you'll ever manage to successfully collect them all?
David: If I am honest, I have to say no! There are around 114,500 boxes at the moment and I have collected nearly 2000, but there is a long way to go. Processing all the submissions takes a lot of time - I have a few people who help with that, but it has become like a part-time job.
To get every box would mean they would need to come in even greater numbers than they do now and I don't have enough hours in the day. That said, it's fun to see just how many we can get and I enjoy the activity of collecting them. It takes me all over the country and I meet lots of people and see all sorts of other interesting things. Just yesterday I was looking at WW2 sea defences in Suffolk with a local guy down there - all because I'd visited on the trail of a postbox. It's certainly not a hobby where you can keep yourself to yourself - as soon as people see you taking photos of a postbox, they come up and ask what you're doing and then they often start with stories about the area. It's fascinating.