Challenge coins are great for recognizing individual achievements and showing solidarity within a specific group, but where and how do people earn them? what are challenge coins, how and where do people typically receive them, and how to keep your challenge coins? In today’s guide, SICpin will answer these questions, so read on to learn more.
1. What is a challenge coin?
A challenge coin is a coin that usually bears the emblem of an organization and is awarded to members of that organization. They are used for a variety of purposes, including commemorating special events, honoring military service or other outstanding achievements, or simply proving group membership and boosting morale. Challenge coins can be made or received by anyone, but they are most commonly given to military personnel and first responders, such as firefighters, police officers, and EMTs, as recognition of their service.
These first responder and military challenge coins bring great pride to those who obtain them, and they are a physical representation of the owner’s bravery and sacrifice that can be passed down from generation to generation. Nonetheless, challenge coins are still used outside of these environments, and more and more challenge coins are being created every day for businesses, private clubs, sports teams, and universities, so you don’t have to join the military to earn the challenge currency.
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2. The origin of challenge coins
Those familiar with challenge coins and military history note that ancient Roman soldiers gave and received medals to boost morale. The most widespread and popular origin story of how challenge coins came into play in the military dates back to World War I. A wealthy lieutenant presented his squadron of American volunteers with special medals to show that they were part of the unit.
One of the unit’s pilots was shot down behind German lines, and soldiers took his identification papers. However, the pilot still kept the medal around his neck safely in a small bag. He escaped to a small French outpost, but the people there feared he was a spy. The pilot could not prove that he was American, but the medal convinced the French to delay shooting him. Thanks to the medal, the pilot was released.
This may have been the beginning of the coin challenge that is still going on today. After the pilot returned safely, all his comrades were required to carry their medals with them. The practice of conducting coin checks means that any unit member who cannot produce a coin must buy the challenger a drink. If everyone can come up with their own coin, the person who initiated the coin challenge will buy drinks for the entire crew.
Since then, challenge coins have been used as a way to identify and reward service members during major conflicts such as World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Current members of the Coast Guard, Navy, Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps all have their own stunning custom military coins as part of the challenge coin tradition.
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3. How to get challenge coins
There are many ways people can receive challenge coins. Some challenge coins are given to military members and first responders in recognition of their service, while others commemorate special events or represent membership in a special club or group.
While these are some of the most common methods of obtaining challenge coins, there are countless examples of specifically designed and issued challenge coins. The options are endless if you want your own challenge coins. Here are some of the most common ways people earn challenge coins.
1) Military challenge coin
There are many ways people can earn challenge coins, but as you should know by now, they are most deeply rooted in military tradition and are typically awarded to active-duty military members and veterans.
Military challenge coins are issued for a variety of reasons. Some are simply distributed to members of specific military branches or specialized units to boost morale and show pride in where and with whom they serve.
Other times, military challenge coins are awarded as awards to recognize and honor outstanding achievements or courage in the face of extreme danger. Truly outstanding soldiers should be recognized and challenge coins have been the traditional way of doing this for the Armed Forces.
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2) First responder challenge coin
Similar to military challenge coins, challenge coins are often given to firefighters, police officers, and first responders in recognition of their service to the community. These coins may simply be given to someone when they become a member of a new fire station or police force, but they are also often used to recognize service anniversaries and outstanding achievements.
3) Non-governmental organizations and clubs challenge coins
The most common way for ordinary people to obtain challenge coins is to join any number of civic organizations or clubs. As a member, you may receive a Club Challenge Coin, or you may receive a Challenge Coin later in recognition of certain achievements.
For example, the Boy Scouts of America is a well-known and respected boys’ organization. The highest rank you can achieve in Scouting is Eagle Scout. Reaching this rank takes years of hard work and planning, and many Scouts who reach this rank receive an Eagle Scout Challenge Award coin in recognition of their achievement.
Challenge clubs are also ideal for commemorating special occasions or events and can be given to members of private sports clubs to recognize efforts over the past year or to celebrate club anniversaries.
Challenge coins like these can create memories and common bonds among club members, and bring a sense of seniority to those who have been around for a while and receive the most rewards.
4) College and sports team challenge coins
Universities and sports teams also produce and distribute their own coins. For example, a university might create and issue a special challenge coin to all students attending a graduation ceremony to recognize their accomplishments.
College and professional sports teams also often distribute their own challenge coins. Creating a challenge coin to commemorate a championship season and giving it to fans attending their hometown championship celebrations is a great way to get people excited about new sports memorabilia that’s personal to them.
High schools often get involved, too, often creating their own custom challenge coins for graduations, homecomings, or to celebrate championship sports seasons.
5) Corporate and Business Challenge Coins
Challenge coins are not just reserved for people who belong to a specific organization or group. In fact, many businesses and companies have begun to take advantage of the fact that challenge coins are a more memorable and effective tool than business cards.
Business challenge coins can be given away at sales events to increase brand awareness, or possibly improve the chances that potential customers will remember you and return to you in the future.
Corporate challenge coins can even be used to boost company employee morale or as a reward for good job performance. With the ability to easily create your own custom coins, companies will continue to use them in creative ways.
For example, I have a client. He is a manufacturer of flexible safety barriers. Every year, he customizes a batch of challenge coins from me to reward the employees of his company for making progress in their work. He says this approach greatly increases employee motivation.
6) Family souvenirs
Another meaningful way to earn challenge coins is to pass them down from older members of the family. They will most likely pass along some story about how they earned their challenge coins.
When a family member or close friend gives you a challenge coin in this way, it is important to honor their story and treat the challenge coin with the utmost respect. This is a way to remember their achievements or sacrifices after their death.
7) Meet with government officials or other senior leaders
Senior government officials or other senior leaders can create their own custom challenge coin designs and distribute them at their discretion. The rules for receiving such challenge coins may only be known to the person distributing them: it may be for meritorious service, or it may be a token of your meeting with them.
Examples of leaders who may decide to distribute their own custom challenge coins include the President, Vice President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Cabinet Secretaries, or high-ranking military officials. Corporate CEOs or other leaders of large companies can also create custom challenge coin designs.
8) Purchase online or at auction
Challenge coins are also a unique collectible market. While someone who accumulates challenge coins in this way will not have the same experience as the person who originally earned them, building a challenge coin collection is one way to commemorate those experiences in a meaningful way.
Public auctions (in person or online) are a common way to obtain challenge coins. You can also visit an estate auction after the original holder has passed away, assuming they haven’t passed the challenge coins on to family or friends.
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4. How to keep your challenge coins
Whether you always carry your challenge coin with you or find other ways to save or display it, here are some helpful tips on how to properly save your challenge coins.
1) Don’t hand it over or lose it
Do not hand over your challenge coins for any reason other than to have someone else check them quickly. If you hand over the challenge coin instead of simply lifting it or placing it on the table (such as when inspecting the coin), it is the same as handing over the coin permanently.
Also, don’t lose your coin or you may be obligated to replace it at your expense. Lost coins can also cause you trouble in challenges, as those who can’t come up with their coins will be obligated to buy a round for everyone present.
2) Stay in good shape
Keep your challenge coins in as good a condition as possible. Keep it clean and free of wear; a coin that is in disrepair is a major sign of disrespect to the person who gave it to you and to others who may be carrying the same coin.
3) Do not destroy or repurpose it
Using Challenge Coins as jewelry or decorations is another unacceptable use. Attaching it to another piece of equipment or clothing, especially by drilling holes to attach it to a rope or chain, desecrates the value of the challenge coin.
Some people prefer to carry it around an acceptable way safely in a pocket (careful not to let it get scratched) or in a small leather pouch hung around the neck.
4) Display it proudly
By purchasing or building a suitable display case, you can keep your challenge coins in good condition for years to come.
You can find countless custom designs for challenge coin display cases. If you own multiple challenge coins and want to share the story of your experience, a challenge coin display case is a great idea to commemorate your coins and the meaning behind them.
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5. Reasons to collect and keep challenge coins
Here are some reasons why you should collect and keep challenge coins.
1) Commemorative activities or institutions
Respect is at the core of any challenge coin. By holding a Challenge Coin, you communicate to the world that someone has respect for you and reciprocate that respect in kind.
This is most appropriate and common for military service. Challenge coins are a symbol of your oath to protect your country and your family. By keeping your challenge coin in good condition and using it correctly, you can honor your unit or company or the senior official who awarded it to you.
If you are not serving in the military but receive a challenge coin through another organization, you are still showing others that you are proud of the achievement the coin represents.
2) Connect with others
Challenge coins are a great way to find common ground with others. When you participate in a coin check and see an identical coin, you can instantly recognize a shared experience and connect with that person.
Challenge coins can even be a “password” to attend a group meeting or a token of some significant achievement in the world that you can use to inspire or connect with others.
3) Represent your membership or affiliation
The most basic result of carrying and using challenge coins is to represent your membership or affiliation with a group or organization.
As we’ve seen, this doesn’t necessarily have to do with the military, but can go back to places you’ve worked, groups you’ve valued attending, or shared activities you’ve participated in with other people.
The story and meaning behind challenge coins make them some of the best keepsakes you can own, especially if they were earned as a result of some unique achievement or action.
Even if you receive no other prize or reward for that achievement, a challenge coin can be the ultimate sign of recognition and respect from the person or group that awarded you the challenge coin.
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6. How to create a challenge coin design
If you are interested in creating challenge coins for your own organization, please keep these factors in mind when considering this custom product.
1) Challenge the coin design process
There are many options for coin plating, from cheaper soft enamels to tougher hard enamels and even translucent enamels up to gold, silver, or rich black metals. You can also find a plating option that combines a gold or silver base with another more cost-effective material.
The design elements of your custom artwork are also crucial to creating the overall look of your custom coin and the story you want to convey. Custom design details such as organization badges should be an important part of the concept behind the design.
Finishes like an epoxy coating, textured coin edges, or special cuts can create a unique finishing touch. You can also make the coin double-sided, or use a custom shape instead of a round shape. Additional upgrade options, such as custom shapes or coin edges, can also make your coins highly sought after by recipients and collectors.
Finally, once your challenge coin is designed, you can find a challenge coin manufacturer to customize your challenge coin for you. For example, at SICpin we can take any idea you have and turn it into your perfect challenge coin design.
2) Reasons for customizing challenge coin designs
No matter which organization you choose to create a custom challenge coin design for, you’ll need to have clear distribution rules. Remember, you do not need to publicly announce these reasons, as long as the grantor is aware of them and has demonstrated the highest level of excellence or outstanding service.
Historical events in your organization may require the issuance of challenge coins. You can also choose to commemorate a special occasion or honor someone who has made an outstanding contribution to your organization.
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The above are the common ways to obtain challenge coins. Of course, the easiest way is to buy challenge coins directly from the challenge coin manufacturer.