challenge coin

The History and Rules of the Challenge Coin

The challenge coin is something few people know about, but those who do, these coins are very symbolic and meaningful. Learn more about the history of challenge coins and the rules of giving/receiving them in our article.

Never heard of a challenge coin? Don’t worry — you’re not the only one. The reality, though, is that the challenge coin has a long and intriguing history.

Although the challenge coin is something that few people know about, these coins are very symbolic and meaningful among those who have received them.

Here’s a glimpse at the history of the challenge coin and at the rules you’ll need to follow when giving and receiving them.

Let’s get started!

The Purpose and Appearance of a Challenge Coin

Many traditions have helped to build camaraderie among military personnel over the years. However, carrying challenge coins is one of the most well-respected ones. And today, they aren’t restricted to the military (even though they largely remain a mystery among those who are not in the armed forces).

Challenge coins are essentially small tokens or medallions that signify that people are members of certain organizations.

The diameters of challenge coins are usually between 1.5 and 2 inches, and these coins are typically around 1/10 inch thick. However, their sizes and styles vary greatly. Some may even take the shapes of dog tags, arrowheads, pentagons, and shields.

Challenge coins are usually made of nickel, copper or pewter and feature various finishes. Some feature simple designs, whereas others have more elaborate designs and highlights.

The Coin’s Origination

It’s not completely clear exactly where and why the challenge coin tradition began. However, we do know that military service and coins go back much farther than the modern age — possibly as far back as Ancient Rome.

In Rome, if soldiers excelled in battle one day, they would receive their typical day’s wages along with a separate bonus coin each. According to some accounts, these bonus coins were specially minted, featuring the marks of the legions from which they came. As a result, some soldiers apparently kept their coins as mementos, instead of spending them on wine and women.

These types of coins are still handed out today to reward people for jobs well done, particularly in the military. However, some administrators treat them much like autographs and business cards that they can store in their own collections.

Still, some soldiers use challenge coins today as identification badges proving that they served in certain units. Meanwhile, other challenge coins are distributed to the civilian population for publicity purposes or are sold as fundraising tools.

Possibly the First Challenge Coin

Another well-known story about the emergence of the challenge coin dates back to the First World War. At that time, a rich officer gave his men bronze medallions featuring the insignia of their flying squadron. Not long after that, a young flying ace was shot down and captured.

Germans are said to have removed everything from the ace’s person except for a pouch he was wearing — one that held his medallion. After he escaped to France, he was sentenced to die, as the French labeled him a spy. However, the ace presented his medallion as proof of his identity.

Because one of the French soldiers recognized the insignia, France delayed the ace’s execution. After his identity was confirmed, the ace was returned to his flying unit.

Later, holes were drilled in these types of medallions so that military men could place them around the neck rather than inside leather pouches.

The Challenge

So, where exactly does the “challenge” idea come from?

According to some stories, “the challenge” started after the Second World War in Germany. Americans stationed in Germany began to conduct “pfennig checks,” or checks for this low-denomination German coin. If you couldn’t produce a pfennig when someone else called a check, you had to buy the beers.

The pfennig check later evolved to a unit medallion check, with unit members challenging one another by slamming their medallions down on a bar. Any member who lacked his medallion had to purchase drinks for everyone else who had their coins. Meanwhile, if everyone could present a medallion, the challenger was the one who had to buy the drinks.

The same essentially applies today.

However, instead of firmly placing your challenge coin on the bar to initiate a coin check, you can raise your coin in the air and shout that you’re initiating a check. You could also accidentally initiate a check if you inadvertently drop your challenge coin.

In addition, to succeed in a challenge, you must have your challenge coin within arm’s length from you. If you don’t, well — tough luck.

Now, naturally, you may refuse to buy drinks for everyone if you end up losing the challenge. Note, however, that this is a detestable crime — one that may require you to return your coin to the agency that issued it to you.

And another thing: Challenge coin checks are allowed anytime and anyplace. So, be prepared.

Coins Today

If you receive a challenge coin today, you’ll likely get it via a secret handshake. This isn’t always the case, but it is a tradition upheld by many.

You can receive a challenge coin by being a part of a police department or fire department or by being involved with the Boy Scouts or the Lions Club, for example. The challenge coin has become a highly collectible and long-lasting way for people to show their allegiance anyplace and anytime.

How We Can Help

We offer high-quality, prestigious and custom-made coins for your organization. We are confident you will not find better craftsmanship anywhere else.

Our designers can use your emblems and colors to highlight the achievements and occasion you are interested in recognizing. Then, you’ll be able to review a proof showing you how your coin will look. If you see anything you don’t like, you can easily make the necessary changes to get your coin perfect.

You can expect your newly minted coins to show every detail of your design. And all of our products are individually packaged and shipped at no cost.

Get in touch with us today to find out more about the challenge coin and how we can deliver the perfect custom coins to you this year. Just fill out the price quote below to begin the process for your next custom challenge coin!