The Rich History and Meaning Behind Navy Challenge Coins

6 minute read

Published on: 17 Sep 2020

Last modified on: 18 Mar 2024

Navy Challenge Coins
Table of Contents

Navy Challenge Coins: Commemorating Military Service

Whether you or a loved one has served in the military or not, you may have heard about Navy challenge coins in the past, but perhaps you don't know much about them. These collectible items have deep meanings for both the presenter and the recipient.

Navy challenge coins are not currency, but they are valuable items because once received, the possessor will treasure his or hers always. Many people who receive challenge coins keep them for the rest of their lives and then pass them on to other family members later on in life.

What are these coins, and why are they so important? Who makes them, where are they obtained, and why? If you want to learn more about the interesting and important history of these small but special items, read on. All your questions about Navy challenge coins will be answered below.

What Is a Navy Challenge Coin? 

The simplest explanation of Navy challenge coins is that they are commemorative coins designed for a special purpose. Challenge coins are created and distributed within many different groups, but they are especially popular in the Navy. They are often presented to members of specific groups to recognize their membership within that group, but some are designed to recognize an individual, an event, or a special achievement.

Challenge coins are usually a bit larger than the coins we use for currency; this is helpful because the designs of these coins are often quite detailed, and the extra space leaves room for more images and information. However, they are always small enough to fit in the palm of one's hand or to slip into a pocket.

Sometimes, challenge coins are metallic only, but others - especially more recent ones - can be very colorful thanks to enamel coating. The imagery displayed varies. Sometimes they feature the Navy insignia. Other coins may include the name of a unit or base, a mascot, patriotic images, or inspirational phrases.

In most cases, Navy challenge coins are round in shape, but these days, they can be any shape at all. They are made of metal; most are made out of bronze, brass, or zinc, but sometimes they are made of silver or gold.

The Meaning of Navy Challenge Coins 

These coins mean so many things to the people that give and receive them. They represent the bond that men and women in the Navy develop with one another. Members of one unit may receive coins from a superior during their service or to celebrate that bond or to celebrate a special event or achievement. Often, when these individuals meet again many years later, they can look over their coins together and reminisce about their past as one.

Most importantly, Navy challenge coins recognize an individual's membership in a group. Whether a coin commemorates a ship, unit, tour of duty, or simply general membership in the United States Navy, it has a special meaning for the recipient that he or she will never forget.

The History of Challenge Coins

One thing that is especially interesting about Navy challenge coins is that no one is sure of their origin. No one knows for sure what the very first Navy challenge coin was, but most military historians agree that they have been a part of serving in the Navy for fifty to one hundred years. There are no written records about the beginnings of this tradition in the Navy or in other branches of service.

However, different stories suggest different beginnings. One popular theory traces these coins back to World War I, but other people think they started to appear as late as the Vietnam War for the first time. Still other historians suggest that challenge coins were passed around during the U.S. Civil War, which would mean they have been around much longer than many people think. 

Regardless of when Navy challenge coins first appeared, they are very popular today. Most Navy historians agree that these coins began to grow in popularity during Operation Desert Storm in the 1990s. The awarding of these coins can really help to build morale and camaraderie during a difficult situation, and they give seamen something to work towards and to look forward to.

How to Get Challenge Coins

There are several ways to obtain Navy challenge coins if collecting them is of interest to you. 

The most traditional way to get your hands on a Navy challenge coin is to earn one yourself. If you serve in the Navy, this should not be too difficult, but it won't be easy either. Some are awarded simply for being present at an event, but others require hard work and dedication. The latter type are even more rewarding than the former.

The second way to get a Navy challenge coin is to become a collector. Many veterans and even civilians spend time collecting challenge coins as a hobby. Some older coins can be purchased online or at auction, although as the hobby has grown in popularity, it is beginning to become harder to find or afford them that way. Some collectors meet with other collectors and build their collections through trades. This is also a great way to meet other veterans and American heroes that the collector may not have met otherwise.

Make Your Own Coins

Finally, if you are really interested in Navy challenge coins, you could always design and make one yourself. There are many companies that specialize in the creation of Navy challenge coins and they will help you with your design every step of the way. Once you have some coins made, you can pass them out to your friends and others who mean a lot to you. Many groups and individuals today make challenge coins for non-military reasons, such as for branding of a business or for the commemoration of a special personal event.

If you are interested in making a challenge coin of your very own, we would love to lend a hand. We have helped people from all walks of live to design and create coins that will be treasured always. Please give us a call today; we would love to discuss your ideas with you and help you to make your coin dreams a reality. We look forward to hearing from you!

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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All Rights Reserved. All symbols, logos and slogans depicted are registered trademarks of their respective owners. The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense visual information does not imply or constitute endorsement. By submitting designs to, subsidiary of MetalPromo LLC, the purchasing party warrants that he, she, or it has/had the legal right to reproduce (or have reproduced) any logos or other images associated with his/her/its order. Samples on the site are for illustrative purposes only and are not for sale.
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