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Tales of Three Little Fish

Tales of Three Little Fish, British Columbia Packers Ltd., Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, ca. 1930. From a brochure that explains the life cycle of salmon through a story centered on three young fish.

DeGolyer Library's new exhibit, "Parables of Promise: American Advertising Fiction, 1856-2014," delves into the sometimes odd, sometimes uplifting but always fascinating relationship between advertising and fiction.

A reception and lecture by guest curator Marc Selvaggio, a renowned bookseller and expert on American advertising ephemera, opened the exhibit March 27. It continues through May 23.

Over three decades, Selvaggio has developed a specialty in buying and selling ephemeral materials. He has worked with libraries around the world in building their holdings in social, cultural and commercial material, including the kinds of pamphlets shown in the "Parables" exhibition.

Drawing from numerous DeGolyer collections, the exhibit "breaks new ground" and is especially rich in materials from the golden age of the genre, roughly 1890-1930, says Russell L. Martin '78, '86, Director of DeGolyer Library.

"One could say that a piece of fiction is always selling something, such as a political idea, a belief of how the world operates or how people (especially men and women) interact, or the promotion of religious or philosophical ideas," says Martin. "So it is not surprising that fiction – simply put, a non-true or non-realistic story – has also been used to sell material goods, whether plows, windows, patent medicines, cereals, the telephone, bicycles, railroad travel, or insurance, to name a few topics found in this exhibit."

More information is available online at

Parables of Promise Exhibit Examples

Left: Alice in Baking Powder Land, Davis Baking Powder Co., 1924. Much like Alice fell through the looking glass, a young woman "falls" into the label illustration and is taken on a tour of the baking powder factory.

Right: Fletchers Painting Book, Fletchers Sauce Co., Selby, England, 1925. An illustrated booklet about a family’s fairy tale adventure that includes frequent encounters with Fletchers sauces.