What Is a Challenge Coin?



Challenge Coins - A Primer

There is something special about a solid coin emblazoned with a military’s regiment and icon on either side. You may have heard of or even seen these military challenge coins before. People talk about them excitedly and show them off with as much pride. If you have been exposed to this concept at all you may be wondering “What is a challenge coin?”  You know we at PinProsPlus are fans of the rich traditions of America, whether they be political slogans, the history of a national holiday or otherwise. We would like to give you another brief lesson, this time on the history of challenge coins, military and otherwise.


A US military challenge coin by PinProsPlus.

The History of Challenge Coins

The actual origin of military challenge coins is not clear. The earliest information regarding soldiers and coins comes from the Roman Empire. Warriors who proved their greatness or valor in battle would be rewarded with a coin to showcase their achievements. Some stories have modern variants appearing as early as World War I. Others put the creation in World War II while others go as late as the Vietnam War.

Regardless of the when, the basic story behind the challenge coin is one of proving the beholder’s identity. One tale is about a soldier who was shot down behind enemy lines. Before flying into battle, his battalion was given a coin with the unit’s insignia on it. After being captured, the enemy stripped him of every means of identification except for his coin. He escaped from imprisonment and was able to prove his status as a US soldier by presenting his regiment’s coin. Another story talks of a regiment that handed out local coins. They were common currency, but with specific dates or denominations. By having these coins, as opposed to differing coins or lacking one, the regiment’s men proved that they were not spies.

The necessity for challenge coins grew into a tradition that incorporates the “challenge” part of the coin. One member would present a coin to another member (or all present). Whoever could not present the coin would have to buy the next round at the bar. If everyone presented, then the initial challenger would cover the tab. This ensured that all soldiers would be carrying their coins on them.


Challenge Coins Today

Challenge coins have grown in notoriety as well as expanding beyond solely the military. These coins may be given as an award for greatness, or as an honorary reward. Enthusiasts have begun buying and selling military challenge coins to increase the value and size their collections. Certain coins are no longer being given so they add a sense of rarity and increase the fun for these collectors. Other organizations offer them as promotional items, collectibles, or for achievements in their own fields. Challenge coins are becoming more prevalent and more fun as time goes on.


A challenge coin commemorating 100 years of the Boy Scouts of America by PinProsPlus.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this little lesson on the history of challenge coins and want to know: do you have a favorite challenge coin?

If you’d like to challenge coins custom made or lapel pins, and other promotional items, contact us for a free quote.