Some Facts About Challenge Coins
Challenge coins are coins that display the insignia of an organization on them, often along with other decorative or emblematic engraving or imprinting. They are usually used by military organizations. Though their origins are debated, they probably began in the United States Army Air Service – the World War 1 military air force, which predated the current US air force.
The purpose of challenge coins is multiple. First of all, they are used as a kind of semi-formal identification system for the organization in question. The holder may be “challenged” to prove membership in the organization. Producing the challenge coin, they have thus met this challenge. Though they do serve this function, it is not in a strictly official capacity. It is more along the lines of a traditional practice similar to passwords, group signs, or answers to secret questions.
There is even a kind of drinking game associated with challenge coins. The challenge act itself often occurs in military bars or involves buying rounds of drinks at bars later. The way it generally works is that a holder of a challenge coin slaps the coin down on the bar, taps it repeatedly, or shows it in some way, and the challenged individual along with the rest of the coin holders present must immediately produce their coins in response. Anyone without his coin is obliged to buy drinks for the challenger and all the other coin holders. However if everyone present does have and show the coin, the challenger himself must buy the round of drinks for all.
Thus a primary purpose of challenge coins is to boost morale. The coins themselves are attractive and are geared toward giving the holder of the coin a sense of belonging and pride. The semi-formal nature of the practice of showing the coins takes them from the realm of technical officialdom and into the realm of organizational pride and social recognition.
Related to this is the use of challenge coins as medals or awards. Often in the military they are awarded to military personnel for acts of courage, strategy, or fortitude that are not large enough to qualify for receiving actual military medals. When they are used by other types of organizations such as, say, fire departments, they serve much the same function, being awarded for moderate examples of outstanding service.
Custom challenge coins are coins that are custom made for specific organizations. These organizations may range from military units to many others – local social organizations, fraternities, sororities, police units, corporations, Boy Scout troops, and so on. Custom challenge coins have steadily grown in popularity over the years and are used more and more. Sometimes an organization will even have custom challenge coins made for a temporary special event.
Challenge coins are an American tradition and a fun and attractive way to show organizational or team spirit.