Military challenge coins are custom-made coins given to a member of an organization or group. They are often passed from person to person and traditionally, there’s meaning behind the coin for each person who receives it. For example, if a sailor served in the Navy on board a ship, they might receive a coin with a replica of the ship on it.
In modern times, challenge coins are also part of civilian organizations such as the police force, fire department, veterans’ organizations, nonprofits and even businesses.. Each coin has a unique meaning, but one constant is that the coin represents unity. Here are five things to know about military challenge coins.
Military challenge coins typically represent a shared experience such as serving on the same ship, being in the same infantry squad or sharing a particular deployment. Each person who has one gets the same coin. That’s why they’re considered collectibles.
While the origins of military challenge coins are not clear, the most popular legend indicates they were first created in World War I, when a wealthy lieutenant gave members of his Army Air Corps squad custom coins. After the war, their popularity spread to other military branches, and eventually to civilian organizations as well.
Military challenge coin traditions come with a set of informal rules. A “challenge,” or coin check, may occur at any time. This happens when a coin holder places a coin on the table or bar, and challenges others to present theirs. Anyone who can’t must buy the next round. If everyone present has their coin, the challenger buys.
Challenges can take place, any time, anywhere, day or night, clothed or unclothed (so have your coin with you in the shower). Coins may not be modified or converted into belt buckles, pendants, bottle openers or anything else. And the rules must be clear to everyone present before issuing a challenge.
Military challenge coins represent a history of an individual’s military career. They can commemorate a specific assignment, deployment, battle, ship, base or just about any other experience. They represent the bond between the men and women with whom one served. That’s what makes them valuable to recipients as military memorabilia.
Military challenge coins are designed to represent specific experiences. That’s why the coins often feature unit insignia, particular ships, aircraft or submarines. They denote the group to which the recipients belong and share experiences. This is the main reason why people collect them. The images on the coin identify the different units or groups.
That’s what makes military challenge coins different from others such as business coins, which tend to have a much less personal meaning to recipients. Military coins serve as a badge of pride for those who receive them,