All About Challenge Coins

Challenge coins – you’ve seen them around, but do you really know where they came from or the story behind them? If not, you’re not alone. There are many, including many who carry a challenge coin who don’t really know exactly what they’re for, how they’re used or, particularly, where the tradition comes from.

Custom challenge coins are carries to show pride. The tradition stems from the military and originally featured the coin-carrier’s unit insignia or something else representing his unit and/or branch of service. If you carry an Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force coin, it likely features the unit you were in at the time you were awarded the coin. Officers and NCOs often hand them out as a reward or memento to those who serve under them.

The tradition took off after World War I, when an American who was captured by French forces (yes, they were on our side) was able to prove that he was an Ally because he had a precursor to the modern challenge coin given to him by an officer in his unit. Good thing, too. The French were convinced he was a German spy and were ready to give him his last cigarette.

Today, custom challenge coins are made for just about any type of organization where unit pride and esprit de corps is important. You may carry a police coin, a fire coin a military coin or any number of other types of custom challenge coins.

Traditionally, challenge coins are used, as their name implies, to present a challenge. This generally happens at bars and taverns in areas where there are plenty of military, police or others likely to have challenge coins. When one person slams a challenge coin on the bar, the others at the bar have to produce their challenge coins. The last to do so – especially if it’s someone who doesn’t have a challenge coin – is required to pay a penalty, usually in the form of buying a round.

Challenge coins are sometimes used to level an individual challenge in the same types of settings. The challenger will challenge someone else at the bar by showing his challenge coin. If the challenged person doesn’t have a challenge coin on him, he is expected to buy a round. If he does produce his own challenge coin, the one who issues the challenge buys him a drink.

Of course, many people carry challenge coins – including those who don’t go to the bar or issue challenges. For many, they serve as a reminder of their service and their comrades in arms that they carry with them long after they’ve left active service. The best challenge coins become cherished possessions that recipients carry with them for the rest of their lives.