What are Challenge Coins and Where Did They Come From?

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people holding coinsHave you heard of challenge coins? They are personalized coins traditionally awarded and traded among the US military. It is a practice that symbolizes respect and recognition. Challenge coins are generally four to five centimeters in diameter and their models can vary with round, square, rectangular, or custom-cut shapes. Most of the time, these coins are made of tin, copper or nickel and have a variety of finishes available, such as aged bronze finish, aged copper, aged silver, aged gold, nickel, shiny copper, shiny silver or shiny gold. The images appearing on the coins are customized and can be distinctive of any organization. Examples include insignias or phrases used as slogans of an institution. Some coins are enameled and others retain the color and texture of the metal.

The First Challenge Coins

It is very difficult to know exactly when the first challenge coins came about. It is said that in ancient Rome, a soldier was rewarded in cash for his performance and when considered worthy, he received an extra coin in his pay. Some report that these bonus coins bore the symbol of the legion to which the soldier belonged, and then the soldiers began to store their coins as souvenirs instead of spending them.

Another interesting story comes from a French soldier who was captured by German soldiers during World War I. The Germans collected everything the soldier carried except a small leather bag around his neck where he kept a challenge coin. The soldier managed to escape and reach an allied base, but since he was not in uniform or in his unit, they believed he was a spy and sentenced him to death. Fortunately, a soldier recognized the badge engraved on his coin and the punishment was postponed. After confirming his identity, the soldier was able to return to his military unit.

The Challenge

Challenge Coins challenges emerged in Germany after World War II. All US military had a personal identification coin and when they met in bars they were challenged to put them on the table. Those who, by chance, did not have their coins, had to pay for the beer of everyone else who presented their “Challenge Coins.”

Modern Examples

In June 2011, United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited military bases in Afghanistan shortly before retiring. During the visit, he shook hands with dozens of men and women in the army. What seemed like a simple gesture was actually much more. With each squeeze, Gates delivered a special coin without anyone noticing. The delivery of the Challenge Coin was a symbol of gratitude for the services provided and also as a farewell.

How are Challenge Coins used today?

The tradition of Challenge Coins continues to exist among the US military. They are given as a symbol of appreciation and merit to those who participate in special operations and do an exemplary job. In addition to the traditional use, today’s coins are also used as a business card or badge to show that a service member belongs to a particular unit. The use of Challenge Coins has also been extended to other industries, such as police and firefighters. 

Today they are also used by companies that deliver personalized coins and medals to their customers and employees, and also in volunteer and non-profit organizations.

Looking for Challenge Coins?

If you are looking to create customized Challenge Coins, contact the experts at the Monterey Company. They can help you design exactly what you need and offer competitive pricing as well.

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