Ted Withington: A Brief Biography

Ted Withington started working as a volunteer at the ANS in 1988, making him, by a wide margin, the longest-serving volunteer and one of the most senior members of the ANS Staff. As with most ANS people, however, there is more to Ted than coins.

Ted was born in 1931, in Long Beach, California, the son of a career naval officer. Naturally, the family moved around a lot, and Ted finished junior high school in Washington, D.C. Then, having been lazy, he was enrolled in Brooks School, in North Andover, Mass. Ted did well at Brooks and went on to Williams College, where he graduated with a degree in physics. During the summer following his junior year, Ted was on a St. Lawrence cruise with his parents, when he met the love of his life, Robin, who was then at Smith. They began dating, and were married in 1954.

When Ted graduated from Williams in 1952, Uncle Sam called, so Ted enlisted in the navy and was sent to Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. From there, Ted was sent to work at the National Security Agency in Washington, as a computer programmer, which led to a long and successful career in the computer industry. Upon completion of his military service, Ted took a job with Electrodata, a Pasadena firm that manufactured vacuum-tube computers—the cutting-edge technology of the day! Electrodata was subsequently acquired by Burroughs, which became Unisys. While living in Pasadena, Ted and Robin had their first child, named after her mother, in 1956. The younger Robin went to Smith, her mother’s alma mater, and now lives with her husband, a banker, in Bethesda, Md. One of her two sons went to William and Mary and is now a graduate student in computer science at Columbia, and the other attends the University of Vermont.

Robin and Ted Withington.

In 1960, Ted left Burroughs and joined Arthur D. Little, Inc., in Cambridge, Mass. ADL was, at the time, the premiere technology consulting firm in the country, and Ted worked there for twenty-six years. In 1962, Ted and Robin’s second daughter, Amy, was born. Amy is now a practicing psychiatrist, and lives near Philadelphia with her husband (an attorney), and their two young sons. In 1964, son Bill was born. Bill now works as a computer network engineer in Portland, Oregon, and also has two young sons (apparently a Withington family tradition).

While with ADL, Ted participated in hundreds of consulting engagements for the firm’s many clients. He was also responsible for ADL’s annual report on the state of the Data Processing Industry. Ted is still an active member of a committee that advises the Government Accountability Office on technology matters. At one point, GAO was reviewing automation efforts at the IRS, but was stymied in getting access to internal IRS documents. To resolve the roadblock, Ted was appointed as a page to a sympathetic senator, and this gave him the clout to get the IRS’s cooperation. Ted is the author of four books and over forty articles relating to his field. In addition, he has been an editor of several journals, a research fellow at New York University, and a visiting professor at Harvard Business School.

In 1986, Ted took early retirement from ADL and moved into the Manhattan apartment that Robin had inherited from her parents. The building, on the Upper East Side, dates from 1929, and still had three tiny bedrooms for servants! Ted and Robin used up most of the proceeds from the sale of their Massachusetts home on renovations, and were able to move into a lovely apartment in 1987.

In retirement, Ted is active on three boards of directors, including the Charles Babbage Foundation (a group devoted to the preservation of the history of the computer industry) and Civitas, a nonprofit that works on neighborhood issues such as East Harlem rezoning.

Ted’s numismatic career began early but progressed rather fitfully. When he was about ten years old, his father gave him a small collection of U.S. cents. After adding some circulated Lincolns, Ted sold these off a few years later for the grand sum of $16.00. Ted’s grandmother had a fascinating screen, which had various ancient coins glued around the edge. When she disposed of it, she pulled the coins off and gave them to Ted, now aged twelve. Ted put the coins in a box, and they lay forgotten for twenty-three years, until Robin ran across them in 1964. Intrigued, Ted bought a copy of Klawans’ book on ancient coins in an attempt to identify them… and the rest, as they say, is history. Ted became fascinated with first ancient Greek and then Roman coins, initially the twelve Caesars. He began to frequent the coin department at Jordan Marsh in Boston, and remembers a visit to Coin Galleries in New York in the 60s, where he bought an Athenian owl tetradrachm.

Ted’s numismatic scope is wide-ranging, driven primarily by his interests in art, portraiture, and history. He also enjoys underappreciated series, where interesting coins can be found at reasonable prices. From ancient Greece and Rome, Ted moved to Byzantine gold, art medals, and then to ancient Chinese coins, such as the spade, knife, and hoe money. He found large lots of these fascinating issues at Coin Galleries, and was encouraged by David Jen of the ANS, who was working on these series. One of Ted’s current passions is gold medals relating to the space program, which can often be purchased for only twice their bullion value, despite being quite scarce. He also collects the medals the U.S. astronauts have always designed and carried on their flights. And he is still collecting ancient coins, mainly the Roman provincial issues of Alexandria.

Ted, now a Life Fellow of the ANS, has been a member and volunteer since 1988. Ted was invited to a “collector’s luncheon” by James Lamb of Spink America. There he met Carmen Arnold-Biucchi, then ANS Curator of Greek Coins, who invited Ted to join and volunteer, which he did. He spent the first six months working on the photo file, while awaiting his “clearance” for access to the vault. At the time, the ANS was engaged in a massive project to get the entire collection catalogued and entered into the computerized database, and this project was Ted’s focus for the next decade. He started with the cataloging and entering of Seleucid coins, then moved to ancient North Africa, Egypt, Spain, and Parthia. By 1999, the effort was complete, and Ted turned his hand to the ANS’s large collection of medals, which was in need of reorganization. The problem with medals is that they can be organized in at least five different ways: by country of origin, by engraver (e.g., Goetz), by subject (e.g., Abraham Lincoln), by event (e.g., World’s Fair), or by collector (e.g., Eidlitz). The only real solution is to enter the medals in the database in such a way that one can view the collection along any of these dimensions, and this is the long-range goal of Ted’s work.

Then, in 2003, the ANS moved from Audubon Terrace to Fulton Street, and Ted was one of the stalwart helpers who safely moved the Society’s 700,000 objects to their new home. Even Robin pitched in, as she has occasionally over the years. After the move, Ted began cataloguing the many dies in the Society’s collection (see the last issue of the ANS Magazine for Ted’s description of this effort).

In 1999, Ted was awarded the ANS Distinguished Volunteer Medal, which he richly deserved. His unselfish commitment to the goals of the organization in helping to make the resources of the Society available to all serves as an inspiration to all those who follow.