Meet the Consignor, Stephen Winthrop

Stephen Winthrop’s Story

Stephen Winthrop grew up in a comfortable and happy life, the youngest of eight children in the middle of New York City. Both of his parents were from Massachusetts, with many branches of their family trees reaching deep into the earliest years of the New Amsterdam and New England colonies (Stephen’s male ancestral line traces directly to John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony).

Growing up in Manhattan, Stephen’s world was quite small. He attended a nearby private school, most of his close friends lived nearby or even in the same apartment building, and most of his childhood activity centered around nearby museums, shops (mostly for comic books), playgrounds, or Central Park – all within walking distance of his family’s apartment. But the two most enjoyable regular adventures in Stephen’s childhood were (starting at age 10) taking the subway to attend Mets games at Shea Stadium, and taking the bus to Stack’s Rare Coin Galleries on West 57th Street.

When Stephen was eight years old, his family spent most of the summer traveling in Europe. Stephen was already showing all the classic signs of a dedicated collector: baseball cards, matchbooks, and Hardy Boys books were just a few of his favorite collectibles. He started that summer trip in Europe collecting bottle caps, but their weight and aroma quickly led Stephen’s parents to redirect his collecting zeal to the coins of the European countries they were visiting.

Soon after returning from Europe, Stephen realized that the coins of the world were too daunting a target. He narrowed his interest to American coins, which coincided with a growing interest in American history. Funded mostly by a modest allowance, the proceeds from carrying empty redeemable cans and bottles to a nearby grocery store, and an eagerly anticipated Christmas check from a generous uncle every year, Stephen’s collection of American coins started to grow. He spent three years saving up to buy a three dollar gold piece. In his early teens, he became particularly interested in commemorative half dollars. It took him nearly 20 years to assemble the full set of high-quality silver and gold commemorative coins offered in this auction. In his 30s, he expanded his interest into mid-19th century Seated Liberty coinage, as well as a number of gold coins.

After graduating from Harvard College in 1980, Stephen spent a few years working for a political polling firm before attending graduate school. He received an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and an MA from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He spent three years working for a large management consulting firm before starting his own consulting practice, specializing in providing financial management, fundraising, grantwriting and information management services to nonprofit organizations. Since the late 1990s, his work with nonprofits has been strictly on a volunteer basis, balanced by a desire to be actively involved in parenting and a growing involvement in managing the finances of a number of family-related endeavors. Stephen and his wife Jane met (or technically re-met) at their 10th college reunion, and they were married the next year. They now live outside of Boston with their two teenage daughters.

In 2011, Stephen became aware of some annoying muscle twitches in his left forearm. Like anyone else, he ignored those symptoms for a while. Then he decided he just needed to spend more time taking care of his body and less time sitting in front of his computer screen. But by early 2013, the twitches and occasional cramps in his left arm and hand had become more pronounced, and he was also aware that the muscles in this (his dominant) arm and hand had become weaker. Many doctors and many tests later, he learned in November 2013 that he had ALS.


About ALS

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Called motor neurons, these cells reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to the death of these cells. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease become unable to move and can communicate only by eye movement.

ALS is a disease with no known cure. In spite of decades of research, there is only one FDA-approved drug on the market. This drug slows the progression of the disease by about 10%. Every 90 minutes, someone in the United States is newly diagnosed with this disease, and although there is considerable variability in how long ALS patients survive, the average life expectancy is three to five years. Currently, there are about 30,000 Americans living with ALS, and the disease is responsible for roughly 1 in 400 male deaths in the United States, and 1 in 800 female deaths.

In recent years, energy and cautious optimism have been on the rise in ALS research. Last summer’s Ice Bucket Challenge raised millions of dollars and elevated public awareness of ALS to new levels. But the hunt for a cure continues, and research of a complicated disease like ALS requires vast amounts of time and money.


The Harvard ALS Initiative

Beyond being the oldest college in the U.S. and one of the most prestigious educational institutions in the world, Harvard University and its affiliated hospitals are already at the forefront of ALS research and clinical trials. Over the past decade, many of the most important findings and therapeutic initiatives in the world of ALS have occurred at Harvard, and now Harvard is taking it one step further with its recent announcement of the establishment of the Harvard ALS Initiative.

The Harvard ALS Initiative will be led by three senior faculty members at Harvard: Kevin C. Eggan, PhD, Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology; Lee L. Rubin, PhD, Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology; and Michael E. Greenberg, PhD, Professor of Neurobiology and Chair, Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School. Together, they will oversee specific collaborative projects and also regularly seek new avenues for research.

The Harvard ALS Initiative is designed both to leverage unique strengths across the Harvard biomedical research community, and to complement and synergize with major efforts outside Harvard, in major foundation initiatives such as Project ALS and in the biopharmaceutical industry.  The major collaborative elements at Harvard include: 

– The Harvard Medical School Department of Neurobiology, the first such department in the country, and the top-ranked department in the U.S. 

– The Harvard Center for Brain Science at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which brings together molecular and cellular neurobiologists with physical scientists, engineers, and experts in animal and human behavior. 

– The Department of Cell Biology and the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, national leaders in research and education in cell biology, stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. 

– The Harvard Stem Cell Institute, one of the world’s leading centers for stem cell research and development of stem cell technologies. 

– The Harvard-affiliated hospitals, a group including Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Children’s Hospital Boston, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and McLean Hospital. 

– MGH, in fact, is the center of care for Stephen Winthrop in his fight against ALS. In the last five years, more clinical trials have come out of MGH than any other hospital or medical institution in the world. Dr. James M. Berry, Chief of the MGH ALS Clinic, is Stephen’s doctor. Dr. Berry and his colleagues at MGH are in constant, active, multifaceted collaboration with Harvard’s ALS researchers.


Statement by Stephen Winthrop

“My life has been turned on its head since I was diagnosed with ALS a little over a year ago. I am very grateful for having a wonderful family, great friends, and strong financial resources, because all three are helping me fight this horrible disease. I am thankful to Harvard for providing me with an excellent education and for introducing me to several of the most important friends in my life (with my wife at the top of that list!).

Over the span of nearly 50 years, I assembled a wonderful collection of American gold and silver coins. Until this past summer, I couldn’t imagine parting with my coin collection. Then I realized that I wanted to redirect all the time and passion and money I had invested in my coin collection toward ALS research at Harvard University.”

100% of the hammer price proceeds from this auction will go to the Stephen VanR. Winthrop ALS Fund at Harvard University. In turn, every penny in the Stephen Winthrop ALS Fund at Harvard will go to the Harvard ALS Initiative. Whether you are participating in the auction or making a gift directly to Harvard, I want to say a resounding “thank you.” That thank you comes not just from this one ALS patient, but also from the thousands of other patients struggling with this disease, and from the thousands of researchers and medical professionals who have dedicated their careers to solving the ALS mystery.


If you wish to make a gift directly to Stephen Winthrop’s fund, make checks payable to “The President and Fellows of Harvard College,” with a notation directing the gift to the Stephen VanR. Winthrop ALS Fund at Harvard University, and send payments to:


Grant H. Whitney

Harvard University Office of Gift Planning

124 Mt. Auburn St., 3rd floor

Cambridge MA 02138


Any questions can be directed to Mr. Whitney at [email protected] or by calling him at 617-496-6248.


The Stephen Winthrop Collection will be sold in our New York City Gallery, at 110 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019 on Friday, February 6th beginning at 6:00PM ET.

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