- Many factors can affect the value of a challenge coin, starting with its production cost.
- The age, complexity of design, and scarcity of the coin can also drive its value up.
- A coin’s value will fluctuate over time, both increasing and decreasing.
- In addition to their sentimental value, the right coin can be worth thousands of dollars.
Whether you’re just starting out collecting challenge coins, or if you’re a seasoned numismatist, you know you want the most valuable challenge coins possible.
Adding the right challenge coins to your collection can increase its overall value. We’ll look at how a coin’s price is assessed, from its physical characteristics to market changes that can increase its worth. We’ll also look at some examples of highly-valued challenge coins.
Each challenge coin will be different, and thus the market price of each challenge coin will differ wildly; these are meant to be sample guidelines to help you build the best collection possible.
The Cost of a Challenge Coin
Challenge coins are not treated (or valued) like typical currency, since they are not created by the U.S. Mint or any other nation’s official currency producer. Therefore, any company with the right materials and equipment can make custom challenge coins without having to adhere to industry standards.
Since custom coins can be mass produced for nearly any occasion, custom challenge coins are a relatively inexpensive commodity at initial purchase. Let’s look at some of the common factors that go into determining the original cost of a challenge coin.
The first element is the casting of the die. The die of the custom challenge coin design is the mold used to create challenge coins with the inverse of the image you want your custom challenge coins to look like. This piece of metal will hit the resulting coin metal, stamping the design into it.
Die Edge Casting
Other aspects of the die include any beveling or texture edge options on the custom challenge coin. A standard flat edge on the coin will cost less than edge options like a cross cut, bezel, reeded rim, or other specialized texture.
Coin plating for corporate custom coins may not be worth as much as the metals used in military coins, since they do not have to be as durable. All the same, coin plating will come into play when determining the cost of a coin.
Any colors that are painted onto the challenge coins will cost extra as well; the more colors that are used will increase the final cost.
Other Custom Designs
Additionally, any specialized color combinations or an organization’s insignia or logo that may be licensed by an institution will drive up the cost as well.
The die mold for each custom challenge coin incurs an additional mold fee that may increase as the size of the mold increases. A larger resulting coin piece requires a larger die mold to be cast, and will also require more raw material for each coin than a small medallion.
Finally, the quantity of challenge coins produced will determine how much each challenge coin will cost, as well as the final order total. Many manufacturers will offer discounts per challenge coin for larger quantities.
How Is the Worth of Challenge Coins Determined?
Beyond the initial production cost, a lot of things go into determining the ultimate sale price that a custom challenge coin will sell for to a collector.
In most cases, a larger challenge coin will have a higher worth than a smaller challenge coin, since more materials are required to produce them. You can also find more complex designs on a larger coin.
Additionally, more colors used in a coin’s design will drive up its market price.
Any proprietary color combinations, colors that are licensed to sports teams or other organizations, other logo or brand standards surrounding a design, or display designs that are closely linked to particular branches of the Armed Forces or other military personnel, will also drive the price up.
For military challenge coins, the coin’s unit can play a factor in how its price is assessed. Specialized units with a high barrier for entry will have their military challenge coins assessed at a higher price than more common units.
Also, military challenge coins handed out by specialized offices or by specific segments of leadership will be more valuable as well.
How the challenge coin is used can determine its worth as well. No challenge coin can be used as currency, but challenge coins that are given to all members of a group will be worth less than those handed out for specific actions or services.
Military challenge coins that are used as awards, or that are given by key leaders due to a personal relationship, will also be worth more as well.
The scarcity of a custom challenge coin is another factor in assessing its worth. Challenge coins that had a low production run (fewer quantities were produced) will be worth more to collectors. Conversely, if there are lots of a particular coin floating around, they will likely have the same value no matter how many times they go on display anywhere in the world.
Age Creates Scarcity
Also, challenge coins that are older will be more valuable than challenge coins that are newer, due to any outdated references, specified individuals, or production processes that are considered scarcer by collectors.
What Else Can Determine a Coin’s Value?
Like any rare item up for sale, the story behind any challenge coin will be the primary factor in determining its value for a collector - even beyond any physical characteristics.
Military challenge coins or other challenge coins with meaningful stories and rich history behind them automatically invest value into the coin. When you hold that coin, you hold a piece of history, and retain a link to a particular time and place.
As with any collectors’ market, the value of each individual item will increase and decrease over time. This can be due to a number of factors.
Any items that can be linked to current events, or milestone anniversaries of previous events, can increase a coin’s value. Military challenge coins that are linked to a unit or office that is being decommissioned can also increase in value as well.
Conversely, if the individual linked to a certain coin has fallen out of the public favor, the value of those challenge coins may decrease. Decreases in value may also come if greater quantities are found of a coin that was previously thought to be more rare.
Fame (or Infamy)
The more famous the individual or organization that cast the coin, the rarer and more valuable it will be.
At the same time, any individual or organization that is attached to some kind of scandal will also affect its coin’s value. It may be a negative valuation if all collectors want to rid themselves of those particular challenge coins; or the scandal itself may make the coin a rare commodity, which would increase the value of the coin.
Last - but perhaps most importantly - the emotional value of a coin is difficult to properly assess in monetary terms.
Military members would consider their military challenge coins more valuable if their unit underwent a difficult tour of service together; that coin would be inextricably linked with those memories and that camaraderie.
Also, military challenge coins given as unique awards for a specific action will be worth more than a military challenge coin that was distributed to all members of a team.
Examples of High-Value Challenge Coins
As previously discussed, the initial production cost of a challenge coin is determined by the materials and equipment used, and will likely align with the standard market value. For most sellers, challenge coin pricing runs at an average unit price of $5 to $15 apiece.
But a host of considerations will make certain challenge coins worth more over time. Here are some examples of highly-valued challenge coins and what they have sold for recently at auction.
Keep in mind that the value of each coin was assessed at the time of sale, and is not indicative of any assignment of permanent value.
Speaker of the House of Representatives
This personal challenge coin comes from senior politicians like the Speaker of the House. In 2022, one of Nancy Pelosi’s coins went up for auction and received a $7,500 bid.
U.S. Navy Group Gold Squadron
The Group Gold Squadron of the U.S. Navy is a special warfare group that partners with the Joint Special Operations Command. This coin is actually cast in the shape of a shield, instead of the regular round shape for a military challenge coin. It went for $3,750 in an online auction.
U.S. Navy Group Black Squadron
The Group Black Squadron is a special operations unit of the U.S. Navy, which went online for a fixed price of $3,250.
CIA Russia House Program
A coin for the CIA’s Russia House program was sold for $3,000. This particular example was inscribed “Europe and Eurasia Mission Centre,” which dates the coin to a more recent period of the Cold War.
General Considerations on Value and Cost
In general, challenge coins that are more plentiful will be worth less because there are more of them floating around. They may also be worth less if they are part of a less specialized group, like law enforcement officers or veterans groups. While the meaning of these challenge coins to their original holders is no less important, it will likely not carry the same monetary value for collectors.
On the other hand, challenge coins from specialized intelligence units or offices will be worth more. Special values will also be given to those coins given out by unique individuals, like senior-ranking officers or politicians. Keep an eye out for these types of challenge coins to add to your collection, but be prepared to pay top dollar for them.