- Challenge coins signify membership to a group, typically military or political.
- The most valuable challenge coins are from presidents and high-ranking politicians.
- The value is determined by the rarity, design, and condition, among other factors.
- Challenge coins have been used since Ancient Roman times.
Any avid challenge coin collector knows a few out there worth much more than others. So what are some of these challenge coins?
Some of the most valuable challenge coins in history include the 17th Infantry COL “Buffalo Bill” Quinn coin, presidential challenge coins, Navy Deep Sea Master Diver Challenge Coin, and B-52 Bulldog challenge coins.
Challenge coins are fun to collect no matter what value they hold. But, of course, it is always cool to have some rare and valuable coins in your collections. The following covers history's most valuable challenge coins, why challenge coins can be so valuable, how the value is determined, and which types of challenge coins are the rarest.
What are Challenge Coins Used for?
Challenge coins are traditionally used to identify a specific person within a particular group. For example, they were used in World War One to prove the membership of soldiers in a particular unit. This would help prevent spies from entering enemy camps, among other advantages.
Over time, challenge coins have evolved and are used by organizations worldwide to signify membership. Some of these include the Armed Forces, military units, and fire and police departments. They are also used as awards and souvenirs for special events.
Why are Some Challenge Coins so Valuable?
Like any other item that is hard to find, custom challenge coins increase in value if they are considered rare. Also, challenge coins with any historical significance were only made in small quantities or for special, one-time events and are usually more valuable than others.
In other circumstances, the sentimental value of a coin can make people pay thousands of dollars for one. Here is a quick rundown of the biggest factors that impact a challenge coin's value.
As with any coin, rarity is the most important factor in a challenge coin’s value. Rare challenge coins are not available to buy all the time, and this scarcity increases demand for the item and drives up the price.
For example, suppose a challenge coin was produced in limited quantities for a specific event or to commemorate a significant occasion, and only a small number of coins were produced. In that case, the rarity of the challenge coin will increase its value. Some of these include the POTUS and other coins awarded to senior politicians.
The worth of military challenge coins can vary greatly based on their significance and association. For example, the unit or branch of the military that the coin represents and the rank of the official who gave it out can greatly impact its value.
Similarly, coins from prestigious units like Black Ops are highly sought after and valuable. The value of a military challenge coin can also change based on the rank of the officer or official who gave it out. Coins from higher-ranking officials, such as the Secretary of Defense or President, have a much higher value due to scarcity and historical significance.
The condition of a collectible is vital for determining its value. This is also true for challenge coins too. Coins that are in better condition and show minimal signs of wear and tear are typically more valuable than those in fair or poor condition.
When checking the condition of a challenge coin, scratches and other damage to the coin's appearance are considered. Coins with defects, such as holes drilled into them or a heavily scratched surface, typically hold less value than their intact counterparts.
Design and Materials
Coins with unique, intricate, and visually appealing designs are more valuable than simple ones. The materials used to manufacture the coin can also influence its value. Coins made from high-quality metals and with detailed enamel work are generally more valuable than those made from cheaper materials.
Histories Most Valuable Challenge Coins
It is time to look a the most valuable challenge coins. The list is based on the aforementioned factors and the prices recently paid for them.
B-52 Bulldog Challenge Coin
The B-52 Bulldog is one of the most valuable military challenge coins. This coin was distributed to B-52 gunners in World War II and symbolized strength and courage. The gunner position no longer exists, and the coin is no longer in production, making it a rare find. Many families have passed it down as an heirloom, making it tricky to find for sale on the open market.
17th Infantry of Korea Commander “Buffalo Bill”
One of the rarest and most valuable coins is the 17th Infantry Regiment Challenge Coin 1952 issue. William "Buffalo Bill" Quinn commissioned the coin to identify members of the 17th regiment. The nickname “Buffalo Bill” was given to Quinn as a radio call sign.
The challenge coin features a buffalo and the date 1812 on one side. The date represents the first activation of the 17th Infantry Regiment. The opposite side of the coin has the dates 1950 and 1952 along the top representing the regiment's years in Korea during the Korean War. Under this is the 17th Infantry Regiment Distinguished Unit Insignia with the text “17th INF.” Under this is the text “Korea.” The coin was disturbed until the early 1960s.
Delta Force Special Forces
The challenge coin was made for the elite 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment: Delta, aka Delta Force. These special forces members are tasked with very dangerous and secret tasks. So it is not surprising that there are only a few in circulation. They have been found on eBay, ranging from $1100 to $3200.
The coin shows the Delta Force logo, a sword with a yellow lighting triangle on the front. The reverse side has several designs depending on the rank of the recipient. However, they all have the text “America’s Finest” and “Oppressors Beware” on this side.
Naval Special Warfare Development Group DEVGRU SEAL Team 6 Gold Squadron
One of the more uniquely shaped coins is this given to members of Seal Team Six. The highly secretive group’s coin has a golden eagle with an anchor, rifle, and trident on the front and a cross with the letter “R” on the reverse side.
The coin's value comes mostly from the extremely limited minting and confidential nature of Seal Team Six.
Seal Team Six Black Squadron Warfare Development Group
This slick challenge coin is another distributed by the Joint Special Forces Command for Seal Team Six members. This round coin has a Roman helmet on the front with the text “Presented by Task Force Commander.” The reverse has the text “ The deed is all … not the glory” and a sword in a shield design. The entire coin has gold accents on a black background.
Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House
As mentioned, some of the rarest coins as those given to high-ranking politicians, and this coin is no exception. As the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives, the historical significance alone makes it valuable. One recently sold on eBay for $7,500.
The front features a picture of the US Capitol Building and Nancy Pelosi’s signature underneath in gold with a dark blue background. The reverse of the challenge coin has the text “ Seal of the Speaker of the House of Representatives” written in gold along the edge on a white background. Inside this text circle is an eagle with the date 1789 and several gold stars on a dark blue background.
Russia House, Central Intelligence Agency
Another covert group, the CIA, also used challenge coins. This one, in particular, has the text “Russia House” and “Excellence in Espionage Since 1947” on the front and an image of Russia covered by the CIA logo.
The coins were part of the CIAs program to spy on Russia. Once sold on eBay recently for around $3,000.
Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo
Mike Pompeo was the Director of the CIA under President Trump and became Secretary of State shortly after. One of the main reasons this coin has a high value is the controversy surrounding his tenure in office.
The 1.75-inch coin has an image of the waving flag, his signature, and the text “Michael R. Pompeo Secretary of State.” On the reverse, the presidential seal is displayed along with the text “ Department of State” and “United States of America” in gold on a dark blue background.
What Is The Oldest Challenge Coin?
We can trace challenge coins back to Ancient Rome. There have been coins sold recently that were minted during the reign of Emperor Hadrian, known for his famous wall in Great Britain. The estimated date for this coin is between 117 and 138 AD.
One of the oldest known military-style challenges is the 17th Infantry of Korea “Buffalo Bill” coin.
Which Type of Challenge Coin is the Rarest?
The rarest type of challenge coins are those made for US Presidents and have the Seal of the President of the United States. Beginning when Bill Clinton was in office, each U.S. president has had a custom coin, typically passed down to military personnel, wounded military members and their families, and foreign dignitaries. The coins are generally given through a simple handshake to make the exchange discrete.