Recently we created a challenge coin for the former Director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency and I began to wonder how he would be using these, who would he be giving these to? I wondered if he had a collection of challenge coins himself and who he had received coins from during his tenure as director of this government agency. Maybe even President Donald Trump? Does the POTUS have challenge coins to give out to individuals? The answer to this question is, yes. Starting with Bill Clinton, every president has had his own challenge coin and, since Dick Cheney, the vice president has had one, too.
There are usually a few different Presidential coins such as one for the inauguration, one that commemorates his administration, and one available to the general public, often in gift shops or online. But there's one special, official presidential coin that can only be received by shaking the hand of the most powerful man in the world. As you can probably guess, this is the rarest and most sought after of all challenge coins.
The President can hand out a coin at his own discretion, but they are usually reserved for special occasions, military personnel, or foreign dignitaries.
It’s been said that George W. Bush reserved his coins for injured soldiers coming back from the Middle East. President Obama hands them out fairly often, most notably to soldiers that man the stairs on Air Force One.
The presidential challenge coin has been in the news fairly often, most recently back in November 2016 when a vice admiral handed then President-elect Donald Trump a coin. In other instances, former President Obama was caught on camera numerous times handing coins to various service members, especially those who guard Air Force One or Marine One.
What exactly does a presidential challenge coin look like though? What type of designs do they feature and when are they handed out? Let’s take a look.
President Trump has crafted his own presidential coin design. It bears his name in three places, where other presidents have only felt one showing was necessary. And instead of the presidential seal, Trump’s coin uniquely features the White House with an eagle’s head facing right, not left (get it?).
The White House Gift Shop website features other presidential coins commemorating specific aspects of President Trump's presidency. Although not "official" presidential coins, they're certainly a collector’s item for people to purchase in the gift shop.
President Trump was recorded in November 2016 being given a challenge coin by Vice Admiral Dave Johnson after a security briefing at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. While the coin exchange usually happens in the other direction, many military personnel decide to give the president a challenge coin featuring their unit or battalion logo or other similar design.
Former President Obama was a noted fan of handing out a presidential challenge coin, given the opportunity. He was often photographed giving a coin to members of the military guarding Air Force One or Marine One, and in one case, was even photographed dropping the coin mid-exchange with a marine in front of the Marine One helicopter.
Obama would often give the coins to military personnel via a “secret handshake”, where the coin would be in his palm while giving a handshake to the chosen person. This made the exchange subtle and discreet, and in so doing, made it difficult to photograph.
While most people who received a presidential challenge coin kept it close, it’s possible to find some information and even some pictures of what the coin looked like. On the front was a 3D molding of the White House, with President Obama’s signature below. Around the White House was gold text on a blue background that said: “Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States.” On the back of the coin was the Seal of the President of the United States.
On top of giving the coins to service members, President Obama would also sometimes leave a presidential challenge coin on the headstones of fallen soldiers at military cemeteries around the nation.
President George W. Bush
President Bush was another big fan of handing out challenge coins when the opportunities arose. Bush often gave coins to the family members of soldiers killed in action overseas.
The President Bush challenge coin was similar to the Obama challenge coin, featuring a 3D mold of the White House with “George W. Bush, Commander in Chief” text on the front and the Seal of the President of the United States on the back.
President Bill Clinton displayed several racks of challenge coins, which had been given to him by U.S. service members, on the credenza behind his Oval Office desk. These coins are currently on display at the Clinton Library. The challenge coins appear in the background of his official portrait, now hanging in the White House.
Challenge coins are now being used by many different organizations. In the federal government, everyone from Secret Service agents to White House staff to the President's personal valets have their own coins. Probably the coolest coins are those for White House Military Aides—the people who carry the atomic football—whose coins are, naturally, in the shape of a football.
However, as a producer of high-quality custom challenge coins at PinProsPlus, everyone’s getting in on the tradition. Today, it’s not uncommon for police and fire departments to have coins, as do many civic organizations, such as the Lions Club and the Boy Scouts. Even the Star Wars cosplayers of the 501st Legion, Harley Davidson riders, and Linux users have their own coins. Challenge coins have become a long-lasting, highly-collectible way to show your allegiance anytime, anyplace.