What Are Challenge Coins? Why Do We Use Them, And Who Are They For?

Jesse Daugherty

Jesse Daugherty

What Are Challenge Coins? Why Do We Use Them, And Who Are They For?

The Purpose of Challenge Coins!

Challenge coins are traditionally used in the military to represent a service member’s belonging to their chosen branch or unit. These days, challenge coins have significance in many other areas. These pocket-sized medallions are great for honoring an individual for their special achievement, to commemorate a special event, or to boost group morale.

It's easy to spot a challenge coin. Typically, each coin has a diameter of between 1½ and 2 inches and a thickness of about 1/10th of an inch. Their shapes and styles may vary. Some diverge from the traditional coin-shape, boasting the shape of shields, dog tags, or pentagons.

Most often, challenge coins are made from nickel, pewter, or copper, while some limited-edition variations are gold-plated. The coins' designs may be as simple as the organization’s insignia or more elaborate with multi-dimensional cutouts.

The Challenge Coin Check!
In some cases, challenge coins can be used as part of a game known as the “Challenge Coin Check." The game works like this. Someone in a military organization or emergency service or company may take out their coin to challenge one or more of their colleagues. Whoever cannot produce their coin must buy a round of drinks for the group.

Origins Of The Military Challenge Coin!
Some believe that the original challenge coins can be traced back to Ancient Rome. Soldiers were given specially minted coins as a reward for their valor. According to some accounts, the coin was stamped with the soldier’s legion, encouraging them to keep their coins rather than spend them.

This legend is up for debate, and many consider the first use of challenge coins to have taken place during WWI. Most recent uses of military coins were seen during WWI. During that time, it was not uncommon for wealthy officers to mint bronze medallions stamped with their flying’s squadron’s insignia.

According to legend, a young ace was once shot down over Germany. Enemy soldiers then stripped him of all his personal belongings except for a leather pouch tied around his neck, which held his squadron medallion. The solider escaped Germany and headed for France, where he was believed to be a spy. The solider presented his medallion to prove his identity. Fortunately, a French soldier recognized the insignia, and the ace’s identity was confirmed. He was then returned to his squadron. Challenge coins capture the essence of military affiliation.

Back in 2011, while touring military bases in Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates shook hands with many men and women in the Armed Forces. Those handshakes held a special surprise for each recipient, a specially minted challenge coin personalized by the Secretary of Defense himself.

Who Uses Challenge Coins?
These days, challenge coins are no longer exclusive to the armed forces, although military coins are still a common tradition. Their popularity has grown beyond the ranks of active-duty and retired government agency personnel.

Presidents & Politicians!
Since the election of Bill Clinton, each President has had his own unique challenge coin. Within each term, there are typically several presidential challenge coins. These include coins for commemorating the inauguration and the administration.

There is usually one available to the public; however, there is only one official presidential coin. The President of the United States may give out his personal challenge coins at his own discretion.

Most presidents reserve them for military personnel, foreign dignitaries, or special occasions. George W. Bush saved his for injured soldiers returning from duty in the Middle East.

First Responders!
The challenge coin tradition has carried over into the industry of emergency services and first responder groups. EMS, firefighters, and law enforcement agencies use them today.

Each coin has a unique design and bears a special honor. They are often given out to acknowledge acts of bravery, to commemorate retirement or, to help raise funds for a good cause.

Business Personnel!
Many businesses, even those unrelated to the military, politics, or emergency services, use challenge coins in similar ways. Corporate challenge coins can be decorated with a company logo to promote a certain brand.

They may be engraved with a slogan or message to the customer, promoting loyalty in the process. They may also be given out to acknowledge the members of the corporate team who have made a significant contribution to the company.

Collecting Challenge Coins!
Every challenge coin tells a story, not just about the recipient, but also about its maker. Because of their tradition of excellence, challenge coins are highly sought after by collectors. It's becoming one of the fastest-growing hobbies in the United States.

Because the coins are custom designed, it's easy to find an assortment of designs, whether you wish to specialize in military challenge coins or to search further afield. Challenge coins are ideal gifts for colleagues, family, and friends, and you can even design and mint your own. Contact us to find out more and let us create the perfect custom challenge coins for you!

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