Challenge Coin Etiquette 101: Everything You Need to Know About Receiving a Challenge Coin

6 minute read

Published on: 24 Feb 2023

Last modified on: 28 Mar 2024

Everything You Need to Know About Receiving a Challenge Coin
Table of Contents

Challenge Coin Etiquette 101: Everything You Need to Know

There are over 19 million veterans in the US alone. Many have a difficult time readjusting to society when they leave the service. They may feel disconnected and miss the camaraderie they had on the field.

There are also over 370,000 career firefighters and 745,000 volunteers. They may have an equally difficult time with loneliness outside of the firehouse or feel unappreciated for all they do.

Top Article Highlights

  • Challenge coins serve as symbols of camaraderie and recognition across various groups, including veterans, firefighters, and military personnel, enhancing morale and team bonding.
  • The tradition of challenge coins is believed to have started during World War I, evolving from a life-saving identification tool to a widespread practice among military and civil service members.
  • Challenge coins carry significant meaning, commemorating special events or milestones, boosting morale, and facilitating team bonding in organizations ranging from the military to sports teams.
  • Proper challenge coin etiquette includes maintaining the coin's condition, understanding its original purpose, and following specific rules during coin checks to avoid accidentally initiating a challenge.
  • Challenge coin exchanges and purchases are part of the tradition, with exchanges typically performed through a simple handoff, and purchases allowing collectors to obtain coins from groups they admire.

One of the best ways to bring groups like these together while recognizing their service is the use of a symbol such as a challenge coin. Their history isn't clear, but they've become a significant morale booster and team bonding item.

Many are considered an honor to receive and come with rules about how to care for and use them. Read on to learn the most important tenants of challenge coin etiquette.

receiving a challenge coin

Challenge Coin History

Army coins were one of the first to ever be exchanged. They were first used in ancient Rome to recognize soldiers. Their history since then is a bit difficult to trace.

Most believe it began when a Lieutenant minted them with his squadron's emblem during WWI. He was captured by the Germans but rescued by the French who assumed he was a spy. Before they could execute him, he showed them his coin and it saved his life.

The origin of the navy challenge coin is also mysterious. There are no written records of how they were first exchanged. Their origins have been traced to WWI, the Vietnam War, and the Civil War. The most influential period for these small coins was the traumatic Operation Desert Storm.

The coin check tradition also has several different origins, all of which could be true.

It may have begun in Germany during WWII. Soldiers used Pfenning, the lowest denomination of coin in the country, to determine who would pay for the group's drinks. That lead to using regiment coins and developed into the tradition used today.

Challenge Coin Meaning

The military exchanges the most challenge coins, whether it's within the air force, navy, or infantry. You may also see a first responder, police, or fire challenge coin exchanged amongst specific squads or crews.

Custom challenge coins can commemorate any group or event. Examples include coins for AA, boy or girl scout troops, and sports teams.

Whatever their purpose or design, their benefits are numerous. They commemorate a special event or milestone, raise morale in your workspace or organization, and serve as a physical form of team bonding.

Bosses can create and distribute a personalized challenge coin to their employees. This is one of the best ways to recognize their exceptional work. It's a win-win for both sides. A lack of recognition is the primary reason employees leave their jobs, and fixing this problem leads to a 31% lower turnover rate.

Basic Challenge Coin Etiquette

The most important element of challenge coin etiquette is taking care of your coin. Keep it clean and store it in a safe place where you won't lose it.

You should also respect the coin's original purpose. Don't use it as a bracelet or belt buckle or drill a hole into it to wear it as a necklace.

Challenge Coin Checks

If you plan to use your challenge coin for coin checks, you'll need to know the rules that apply to this longstanding tradition.

The first and most important rule is to keep your coin with you at all times. You never know when a challenge will be given.

If you're the one initiating the check, make sure you do so in a way that gets everyone's attention.

If you drop your coin and it makes a noise, that's a sign that you've accidentally made a challenge. It is also poor challenge coin etiquette because it shows you haven't taken care of your coin.

Explain the rules of the coin check before you begin.

challenge coin rules

Everyone must place their coin on the table. You lose if you place your coin too far from your seat. It shouldn't take you more than 4 steps to reach it.

Don't put your coin in anyone's hand because this signals that you want to give it to them. You must either place it on the table, hold it in the palm of your hand, or hold it high for everyone to see.

If everyone properly displays their coins, the last one to do so or the one who initiated the challenge is the one responsible for paying.

There is no definitive ranking system for challenge coins, but there are a few standards to use if you can all agree on them. They'll help judge who wins if everyone displays a different coin.

As far as value, from most to least common, the list goes store-bought, promotional, unit, general officer, military school, and medal of honor coins. You may also judge them based on design or personal significance.

Finally, remember that you can only initiate one coin check per night.

Challenge Coin Exchanges

The way you present the coin is another important part of challenge coin etiquette.

A simple handoff like the military handshake is the most traditional method. It works for almost any organization. Most challenge coin recipients appreciate the recognition but don't want the exchange turned into a major event.

It's also acceptable to buy a challenge coin at a flea market or online. This is the best method for history buffs or collectors who want a specific pin from a group they don't belong to.

Purchasing a Challenge Coin

Team-building and recognition are essential to the health of any organization, from the military to the Boy Scouts. Challenge coins help with these factors. Their history is unclear, but they're significant symbols that should be treated as such.

Understanding challenge coin etiquette is the best way to respect this long-standing tradition. It involves respecting the coin itself, following the rules of a check, and knowing how to buy one or give one away.

Custom Challenge Coins has a range of types and styles to choose from when making a custom coin. Get a quote today.

Jack Thompson

Jack Thompson was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. After retiring from the military, Jack moved to Austin, Texas, to start a new chapter in his life. He has always been passionate about storytelling and decided to become a writer and podcaster. He runs a successful podcast where he discusses military history, shares personal anecdotes, and interviews other veterans. Jack also writes often about military traditions and history.

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