Challenge coins, as they are often called, have been a tradition in the military (and even outside the military) for so many years now. Many people may not be aware of what it is and why it has been customary for the members of a certain organization (especially in the armed forces) to be presented with a special, custom made coin as a symbol of allegiance and as a token of appreciation. These military coins, which bear the troop’s insignia, have played a significant role in instilling pride to anyone who is presented or awarded with it. Many have even been collecting and trading coins from different squadrons or troops or organizations. It is really amazing how a little coin can have so much worth. It is therefore just appropriate to dig in a little deeper and find out the small details and origin of a military challenge coin.
The history of military coins dates back to World War I, as stories have claimed. It was said that an American fighter pilot, who was captured by the French and was mistakenly identified as a saboteur, was nearly executed if not for the coin he carried around in his purse. The life-saving coin (given to him by his lieutenant just before they were deployed) bears their squadron’s emblem, thereby allowing the French troop to verify the pilot’s real identity as their ally. Because of what happened, the members of their squadron made sure everyone carries their own coin around, in case they would need it as their mate did, by coming up with a challenge where somebody initiates a “coin check”. Whoever is not able to show his coin loses and has to buy a round of drinks for everyone. That is actually how the term “challenge coins” emerged.
Looking further into the appearance of these military coins, it can be noticed that the designs are intricately carved on them. A challenge coin is usually designed with the organization’s name, logo and motto. Such coins are often the size of a silver dollar, or around 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter. The most common shape it takes is, of course, round, but it sometimes comes in a variety of shapes like pentagon, shield or arrow. There are just so many cut out options, and the materials they are made of vary as much as their shapes and designs. They can be made from simple pewter or plated with a stunning piece of gold. Generally, it can either be a hard enamel coin or a soft enamel coin.
The difference lies in the process of making the coins, and it definitely has nothing to do with how hard or soft the coins are. Both hard and soft enamel coins are molded to the preferred shape and size. However, in the process of making a hard enamel coin, the coin’s surface is polished by filling the deep-set areas after receiving color, creating a smooth finish. Soft enamel coins have raised and recessed areas too, but these areas are not filled, leaving them with a strong texture, creating a stunning effect with light. Based on the quality, one is not necessarily superior to the other. It is really just a matter of preference.
In modern times, military coins are not only crafted for the armed forces. Many organizations, schools and universities present coins to their members as a symbol of membership or a token of appreciation and respect. The deep-rooted history and the complex process of cutting, molding and designing these coins only reflect how significant they are. There are not mere coins, but a reminder of camaraderie, unity, pride and honor.