Artist Proofs Explained
When a Harbour Lights product was deemed ready for release, the factory would begin full scale production of the pieces. While the first run of these pieces was in progress, usually 10-16 completed pieces were removed, boxed, and then quickly air shipped to the Harbour Lights offices. (Freighting by air took weeks off of the time it took to ship by water, but it was much more costly to transport by air than it was by container ship, as the vast majority of pieces were sent). These were dubbed "Artist Proofs". Upon receipt at the HL offices, a label would be attached to each piece confirming that these, indeed, were Artist Proofs. (Sometimes instead of labels, the letters "AP" were written on the blank flag where the serial # would normally be on collectors' pieces). It must also be noted that with a few exceptions, lighthouses produced in California and Canada never had a distinctive sticker or written "AP" on the flag. They remained blank, "as is", so to speak.
Artist Proofs served three purposes. By getting these shipped quickly, Harry could inspect the pieces and be sure that they were up to full Harbour Lights standards. If there were any errors in production the factory could be made aware of them and corrected before too many pieces were flawed.
The main purpose of Artist Proofs was as a selling tool. Harbour Lights used a number of sales representatives throughout the country. Each of these wholesale reps would be sent an AP "on loan" so that they could display them in their showrooms for retailers to see. Often a sales rep would have one in his car along with products from other companies which he represented. He would then show the piece to each Harbour Lights retailer on his route and take orders for them. Quite often the boxes and inserts would be discarded to save room in the vehicle. (That is the reason why customers can often receive their Artist Proofs without boxes).
Sometimes a few of the Artist Proofs were held back and not sent to sales reps. Those pieces would be set aside and Bill Younger would either give them away at Harbour Lights events or perhaps auction them off for Lighthouse Preservation fundraising.
Originally, Artist Proofs were on loan to the sales reps and were returned to HL when the piece was retired and sold out. As time went on and literally hundreds of lighthouses were produced, corporate offices lost track of where the AP's were. Instead of sending the pieces back to corporate, sales reps often sold or gave them to willing retailers. Collectors discovered this and before long began purchasing them from those retailers that were able to acquire them.
Popularity of Artist Proofs grew through the years and today they are considered to be special among serious collectors.