Mrs. Billings Remembers .....
From the 75th Anniversary edition
July 23, 1975
Mrs. Billings Remembers .....
By Ann Moore
"She has printer’s ink in her veins" is a phrase used in the news game to characterize those who love the business.
Photo left: First edition of the Hamptons Union, dated June 14, 1899, was presented to the Tuck Museum recently by Constance Adams Billings, daughter of the founder of the Hamptons Union, Charles Francis Adams. Accepting the donation was John M. Holman, curator of the Tuck Memorial Museum. The original first edition has now been framed and hangs in the Tuck Memorial Museum. [Dennis McGowan Photo]
The phrase is most apt when used to describe Constance Adams Billings of Kittery Point, Maine. Mrs. Billings is the daughter of the Hamptons Union founder Charles Francis Adams, and she has the reminder of her introduction to the flat bed press ever with her.
Whui she was two, her mother was setting type and young Constance standing near the press watching, got her finger caught under the arm of the press and lost it. Denatured alcohol was the disinfectant used and the child was rushed to the doctor. "I don’t remember it myself, but people have told me I was screaming," she recalls.
The experience didn’t, daunt Constance, and at age five her Dad allowed her to use the large block type to practice setting up words. "Some of the first words I knew were German," she recalled. "World War I was on and I set many of those words."
When the Adams’ began the Hamptons Union at the turn of the century, type was still set by hand, each letter chosen from an alphabetically divided box, and placed in a form. Then the page was printed from the locked form. After printing, the forms had to be broken down and type "distributed" back to the proper box.
"Distributing was usually my job and I hated it," she says. Constance reminisced about the early paper and as she spoke of the hard work and long hours her voice filled with a warmth and pride heard whenever someone speaks of work they loved.
"You had to love the business, there wasn’t much money in it," she remembered. "There were no machines to automatically fold the paper — that was all hand work. We collated the papers and then delivered them," she recalled.
The precision of the work of setting the type by hand so that the letters printed evenly through the film of ink was an art in itself. The beauty of the print in hand-set books and papers is the object of diligent search by collectors and connoisseurs. The expertise of Mrs. Adams, Constance’s mother, can be seen in early copies of the Hamptons Union exhibited in Hampton’s Tuck Museum. Mrs. Billings gave a copy of the first issue of her dad’s paper to Tuck’s curator John Holman, where it is on display.
The Hamptons Union got its first linotype machine "about 1920 or 22," Constance remembers, "and Robert Elliot ran it, his brother Bill worked for Dad, too, and he ran the job press."
"We printed the town reports, and proofed them. That was a job! You had to be very carefull with all those figures. Sometimes the static electricity would build up on the flat bed press and papers would back up and snarl. That was a mess. The lead for the type was melted in pots, denatured alcohol was used to start the fires and benzine was used to clean the type before it was re-used," she said.
Constance recalled the winters when horse and sleigh were used to deliver the papers. "I think it was 1924, we had a foot of snow on April 13, pipes froze, and burst. That was the winter the temperature went to 20 or 25 below zero, that was a very bad winter. I remember Dad was in the legislature and I used to have to help with the paper after school. I wasn’t always too happy about that!"
"Dad sold the paper the year I graduated from high school. I was seventeen."
Constance Adams Billings is retired now.
But she has printers ink still in her veins.