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What’s the History Behind Challenge Coin Collections?

Wondering what a challenge coin is, and why people collect them?

Coin collecting is a popular hobby for many people around the world. However, challenge coin collections are unique, with a fascinating history.

Whether you’re a collector yourself or just curious, we know you’ll love learning about challenge coin collections. Read on to learn why people are so passionate about challenge coins!

What Is a Challenge Coin?

A challenge coin is a medallion or coin that has an emblem of an organization. It’s given to members of that organization to show affiliation.

Challenge coins are usually associated with the different branches of the military. The name “challenge coin” comes from the original use of the coin. They were often given to members of the military after they completed a challenge, in order to provide a morale boost.

Commanders of a unit would also give military challenge coins to members to recognize individual achievements. If someone important visited a military branch (or another organization that uses challenge coins), they might be given a coin to commemorate their visit.

The History of Challenge Coins

Challenge coins are believed to date back all the way to ancient history.

During the Roman Empire, coins were used as a way to reward soldiers for their accomplishments.

In the days of the Renaissance, a form of challenge coin called a “portrait medal” was given out. Their purpose was to memorialize events involving the nobility and other famous figures.

People gave these coins to each other as gifts or traded them with friends.

Military Challenge Coins

Modern military challenge coins got their start during WWI.

When the U.S. entered the war, volunteer units of American soldiers formed the new squadrons. A number of them were well-to-do students of places like Harvard and Yale, who quit school for the war effort.

The Legend of the First Challenge Coin

It’s said that a well-off lieutenant gave a set of bronze coins to his unit.

One of the pilots wore his coin around his neck in a leather pouch. Not long after, his plane was damaged and he had to land behind the enemy lines, where German officers captured him.

The Germans took away all his identifying information, so he’d be less likely to escape. However, they neglected to take the leather pouch from his neck.

They brought him to a French village near the front lines. That night, there was a bombardment in the town. He escaped, but he didn’t have any way to identify himself.

To avoid capture, he put on civilian clothes and made it across the front lines into his own territory. There, he found a French outpost, but because of his foreign accent, they didn’t trust him.

The French planned to execute the American soldier because they thought he was a saboteur. However, he produced his challenge medallion, and one of the French soldiers recognized the insignia on it.

Because of this, they didn’t execute him. After he was able to prove his identity officially, they even gave him a bottle of wine.

The Challenge Coin Tradition

When this young soldier returned to his squadron (so the story goes) the rest of the members started carrying their own coins with them at all times.

This eventually turned into a “challenge” among the soldiers. One soldier would ask to see another one’s coin. If the challenged soldier didn’t have it with them, they had to buy a drink for the challenger.

Other Types of Challenge Coins

Whether or not this story is true, the challenge coin has grown to be very popular both within and outside the military.

A number of U.S. presidents have issued challenge coins. A number of presidents have also displayed challenge coins given to them by members of the military.

Different organizations, such as motorcycle clubs, often issue their own challenge coins to members. Challenge coins are also given as prizes for certain competitions, such as science contests.

The militaries of some other countries have also adopted challenge coins. With so many different and interesting types of coins available, it’s no surprise that challenge coin collections have become so popular.

How Challenge Coin Collections Started

As challenge coins have become more well-known and popular, many people have started their own collections. These coins are great ways to show what you’re interested in or to collect interesting bits of history.

All kinds of different organizations now issue challenge coins. You can easily collect them based on a certain set of interests or simply collect coins that have historical significance.

Are Challenge Coin Collections Worth It?

Just as with any collectible, it’s better to collect challenge coins because you’re passionate about what they represent, and not because you’re hoping to make money.

Most traditional coin collections don’t involve challenge coins, but coins that have had monetary value in the past. Challenge coins aren’t meant to have monetary value, but to commemorate events and organizations.

Most of these coins won’t be worth more than a dollar or two. But they are fascinating relics to keep and can make great displays for your home.

Finding the Best Challenge Coins

How can you find the best challenge coins to add to your challenge coin collections?

First, you should make a list of exactly which coins you’re looking for. If you’re just starting out, this might be a general idea of what you want to collect. If you’ve been collecting for a while, you might have a list of very specific coins you want to find.

Then, you can search for the coins you’re looking for. Many people now buy coins for their challenge coin collections online.

When you buy online, make sure there are plenty of pictures to show the quality and authenticity of the coin. Also, check with your supplier about how they’ll ship the coins. They should be carefully packaged and protected during transit.

Ready to Build Your Collection?

Once you learn about the history of challenge coins, it’s hard not to want a collection of your own. Don’t wait–get started today!

Someday, you might even want to take it to the next level and turn your challenge coin collections into a complete antique business.

For more on how to get started, check out this post.

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