What is a Challenge Coin? Armed Service Traditions You May Have Never Heard Of

Not many people have ever heard about a challenge coin- are you one of the few that have? If you are then you probably already know that these coins have quite a vital significance behind them. And if you are the owner of one of these challenge coins, then you know that the coins are meaning and have a rich history behind them.

If you are curious about challenge coins; what they are and what they mean, then read on as we delve into this particular and unique Armed Service tradition.

What is a Challenge Coin? Armed Service Traditions You May Have Never Heard Of
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Challenge Coins: The Purpose

The primary purpose of traditions within militaries’ is that they help to build a sense of camaraderie. Many different traditions in the military originated to fulfill this very purpose. However, few traditions have as much history and intrigue as the challenge coin. In the ‘old days’ carrying such a coin was considered honorable and if you were carrying one, then you were granted respect. However, fast forward to today’s modern world, and we see that challenge coins are present in many other sectors, not just in the military as it once was.

So, what is a challenge coin?

You may still be wondering what exactly these challenge coins are. In short, they are small medallions or tokens. And having a challenge coin means that you belong to a particular organization. Members of specific organizations are given these tokens, as a symbol of their membership.

What does a Challenge Coin Look Like?

Small in appearance, the typical challenge coin usually has a diameter of no longer than 2 inches. Although the thickness can vary, the majority of challenge coins around today are approximately 1/10 inches.

While the dimensions are pretty stable, the styles are not. Some challenge coins are designed to incorporate geometric symbolism and could be in the shape of a pentagon, arrowhead or shield. On the surface, the coins could employ a variety of designs to suggest particular meanings.

What is a Challenge Coin Made of?

Coins are generally made of pewter, nickel, or copper.

Where does the Challenge Coin Tradition come from?

It is estimated that the tradition of the challenge coin did not originate with the modern day’s military service, but instead could be placed as early as ancient Roman times.

What is a Challenge Coin? Armed Service Traditions You May Have Never Heard Of
Image Source: Pixabay

It is believed that Roman soldiers who proved themselves excellent warriors on the battlefield were awarded an extra bonus coin. Some researchers have been led to believe that these ‘bonus coins’ were specially designed, carrying specific markings as indications of the individual legions. Therefore, because of their uniqueness, the soldiers could have kept these coins as lucky tokens or collectibles and not traded them as money unless the need arose.

Looking at today’s world, we see that the challenge coins are still used as rewards. In the military, challenge coins are given out as tokens for excelling. Then there are those who will collect and store these coins.

Even in the modern day, soldiers can still be found to be displaying the challenge coin as a badge of honor as it is indicative of the suffering they went through, and the service that they offered. However, challenge coins can also be given out to civilians for different purposes, and can even be bought and sold.

Where did the First Challenge Coin come from?

No one knows with certainty where the very first challenge coin originated. However, there is a famous story that details the account to WW1. The story goes something like this…

An officer was serving in the war who was rather wealthy. He decided to share his fortune by giving his men bronze medallions. On this medallion was an insignia of the flying squad to which they belonged. This medallion was a symbol of bravery and belonging. Not long after, one young member of the flying squad was shot down during battle- but he survived and was taken as a prisoner of war. According to the story, the German soldiers removed every bit of clothing from the young man’s body. They left, however, a single pouch that carried the medallion.

Fortunate for the young man, he was able to escape, and he made it to France. However, the French determined him to be a spy and, as such, condemned him to the death penalty. Once again, the young man was fortunate as he had this medallion to prove that he was indeed no spy. With this medallion, the young man’s life was saved, and he was able to return home.

Men began to drill holes in their medallions so that they could wear them around the neck, instead of leaving them in a leather pouch where they could be easily removed or lost.

Where does the Challenge come from?

What is a Challenge Coin? Armed Service Traditions You May Have Never Heard Of
Image Source: Pixabay

The idea for it to be a “challenge” coin originates after the WW2. There are many stories, but the most popular one is that American soldiers who were stationed in Germany had a type of game for those responsible for buying the beers. It came to the point that two soldiers would have a ‘challenge’ and the loser would pay for the drinks. The challenge involved calling it out and then slamming the medallion on the table. If someone did not have their medallion, then drinks were on him. If everyone was able to produce a medallion, then the challenger had to forfeit the bill.

You may seem something similar happen today as well, and you should be prepared because anyone can call a challenge at any time.

Do you want to obtain a challenge coin? You will probably have to learn a secret handshake if you do. It is not always used, but it is a tradition that is still in play among many societies. People that are in service with the police department, the boy scouts or any other type of society or club could receive such a coin to show their allegiance and loyalty to the organization.

Feature Image Source: Pixabay


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