CHALLENGE COINSOct 07, 2020
Many may think that Challenge Coins are simply a marketing tool or a corporate gift gimmick. Sometimes they are but here is a brief history behind their real meaning…
It’s said that challenge coins can be traced back to the Roman Armies when the best soldiers would be paid extra for fighting particularly well. The bonus came in the form of a special coin that had his units insignia on it so that when it was spent, people would know that the spender was a brave soldier. Some soldiers favoured keeping these coins over spending them and thus within military circles, these coins became a symbol of pride.
Other stories from this time tell of Soldier’s who had excelled being rewarded by their superiors with a drink at the bar. To ensure that everyone recognised this act, the Commanding Officer would demonstratively slam payment for the drink down on the bar so that all would know of his soldiers reward.
More recently, there is a story from World War 1 where a challenge coin saved a young Americans life. The story goes that a young American joined as a volunteer Airman before the US officially joined the war. He was shot down over Germany and subsequently captured. The Germans removed all his identification however, left him a branded coin that he had in a secret pouch. During a particularly heated battle, he escaped and managed to get to France. When French authorities found him, they were suspicious that he was a German Spy or a saboteur and scheduled him for immediate execution. Without any identification to prove his status, he produced his personalised unit coin and his life was thus spared. It then became culture for all squadron members to carry their coins at all times.
Merging the stories above, it is now customary for Military, Law-Enforcement and related industries to create and carry challenge coins. These coins are often swapped between members of collaborating units the world over, as well as still being awarded to those performing particularly well or after reaching a certain level.
And it is now customary that during a post task drinks, that if someone Slams their coin down on the table and challenges the group, any person who cannot follow suit and accept the challenge by doing the same with their coin, will owe the issuer (or the entire group) a drink. Challenge coins remain a point of pride for the carrier (as well as a cool corporate gift where used that way).