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What are challenge coins?

By Catalogs Editorial Staff

The proud owner of challenge coins has done something worthy of recognition

The proud owner of challenge coins has done something worthy of recognition

A challenge coin is a medallion, often a military medallion, or a small coin that has a group?s emblem or insignia on it. The coin is carried by members of a select group.

Challenge coins are sometimes given when a member of the group faced a moral challenge and has overcome it. Challenge coins are also given to people who join a group or to commemorate a particular event or when an individual performs a certain duty or displays exceptional service or anything that is worthy of acknowledgment. The purpose of the coin is to promote morale.

No one is quite in agreement on the origin of the challenge coin. It is generally thought that the challenge coin is an offshoot of a practice begun by the Army Air Corps, which is now the Air Force, during World War II. 

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In no other war had air warfare taken place prior to World War II. The story goes that a member of an air squadron during WWII had bronze medallions made, which were given to the other pilots with whom he’d served. On the coin was the squadron?s insignia. 

All squadron members carried their medallion, so they could prove their identity if they had to. The fun part of the coin is that the challenge is to produce the medallion on a command. If the soldier or person can’t do it, he has to buy a drink for the person who challenged him.

During the Vietnam War, soldiers carried coins that featured their unit crest. If a soldier went into a bar and couldn?t produce his coin, he had to buy the drinks. 


A challenge is issued by slapping the challenge coin on a table (or most likely on a bar counter) or by tapping the coin repeatedly on the bar or table top. If you are challenged you must show the challenge coin from your particular military unit or organization. If you don?t have it, the drinks are on you.

If a challenge coin is dropped this means that everyone in the establishment is challenged. The challenge was designed to be a basis of self-esteem and confidence among members of a unit and to ensure that members of the unit are carrying their coin.

There is, in most cases, an ironclad rule regarding the defacement of a challenge coin. If the coin has a hole drilled into it or is attached to a key ring or to a lanyard it is no longer considered a challenge coin. The correct way to carry a challenge coin is to put it in a pouch and wear it around the neck. Some organizations explicitly disallow carrying a challenge coin in a wallet.

An example of a challenge coin is the Bull Dog challenge coin 2 that is restricted to enlisted B-52 tail gunners. There is no longer this type of position in the military so this precise challenge coin is very uncommon nowadays. This particular coin was awarded when an individual graduated from Air Force tech training and joined the gunners? association. The tail gunners identified with the tenacity and bravery of the bulldog, which is their mascot.

A challenge coin can be a pocket coin or a medallion or presentation coin which are a little bigger than the pocket coin. The coin can be square, oval or multi-sided. The coin?s finish can be brass, gold, nickel, bronze or silver or antiqued. The cost of a challenge coin depends on the involvedness of the design and the production process that is used.


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