17 December 2018
Join in with a fast-growing coin craze and discover how to collect Challenge coins in our get-started guide.
What are Challenge coins?
A Challenge coin is a piece of metal, usually round and shaped like a traditional coin, around an inch in diameter, originally presented to members of the military but now in more widespread use.
Traditionally, Challenge coins were (and still are) presented to members of the US military as a reward for their time in service, or for a particular task or military campaign. Challenge coins are not coins in the traditional sense of the word, since they have no value as currency, are not minted by the US Mint, but instead are created by private mints.
The exact origins of Challenge coins is unclear, but centuries before they came into being, Roman soldiers were awarded specially minted coins after particularly arduous campaigns.
In more recent history, a widely-publicised story goes that the coins are believed to date to World War I when a soldier rescued by the Allies was believed to be a spy and was only saved from execution when he produced a Challenge coin. Whether or not this story is true, the coins were certainly in circulation among servicemen and women in the US from the 1960s onwards and have been made and collected ever since.
The Challenge coin challenge!
There is a drinking challenge attached to the coins, which is said to help boost morale among different military units. Any member of a unit can present the challenge by placing his coin on the bar or table and challenging one or more people to present their Challenge coin. Anyone who is unable to quickly present their coin must buy a round of drinks for either the challenger or everyone present.
What Challenge coins are available?
Several different types of metal are available, including:
What are the different types of Challenge coins?
Each Challenge coin will have a different image, perhaps the logo or insignia of a particular military unit, usually with wording that indicates why the Challenge coin was issued. Those examples that refer to a particular organisation were often used as proof of membership by the person carrying the coin.
As Challenge coins have grown in popularity their use has grown beyond the US military and examples are available from other organisations including the fire service, sports teams and community organisations.
How to collect Challenge coins
With an estimated 10,000 different Challenge coins in circulation this is certainly a hobby with plenty of mileage. The most common Challenge coins are those presented to the likes of sergeant majors and lieutenant colonels, since there are more of these in existence, whilst Challenge coins for higher ranking officers are rarer and usually more expensive. Even rarer are the Challenge coins presented to serving officers by the US president or vice-president.
Although military Challenge coins were initially only minted for US service people, the tradition has spread around the world and you should be able to find examples from Canada, Australia, Britain, New Zealand and Switzerland.
Where can I buy Challenge coins?
Auction sites such as eBay will have many examples and Amazon also sells these coins, and there are several Facebook groups for enthusiasts, including Challenge Coins Collectors Club.
Keep an eye out at antique fairs and flea markets, as well as at military supply stores and stands.
Take the Challenge a step further!
Have you ever thought about having your own Challenge coin made? Many coin producers will create Challenge coins in quantities of fifty or less and will help you with the design and colour scheme.
You could produce coins for a group or society that you belong to, or create them as a special keepsake for an event such as a wedding, birthday or graduation, or to raise money for a charity or event.
See ‘useful websites’ below for ideas on how and where to produce your own Challenge coin.
- The Military Service Company, who produce Challenge coins and associated memorabilia.
- Challenge Coin USA – run for collectors by veterans and retired law enforcement officers.