A challenge coin is a small, circular coin or medallion which bears the insignia, coat of arms, or emblem that is used to identify a particular organization.
These items were traditionally used in the military to boost morale among troops, and to help identify members. When challenged, a member may produce the coin as proof of membership. Today, challenge coins are more often presented by the unit commanders in order to recognize the achievements of one of the unit’s members. They may also be exchanged during visits to other organizations. Finally, challenge coins may also serve as collectors’ items.
The tradition of challenging an individual’s membership is the most common way to ensure that all members not only belong to the group but are also carrying the coin with them. The rules of challenging are not necessarily formal, and there are certain variations between different groups. In some cases, the challenge may only apply to individuals who have received a coin during a formal presentation by their unit leader. But this can lead to controversies when members of different units or organizations challenge each other. The procedure is meant to serve as a source of morale and confidence within the group. However, when someone is challenged and cannot produce a challenge coin, it can have the opposite effect, leading to a loss of faith in the group.
This practice is often referred to as a “coin check.” One particular set of informal rules dictates that the challenge must be shouted, but can be made at any time. The person challenging should draw his or her own coin and place it on a surface such as a table so that everyone can see. In loud settings, the person may slam the coin on the surface several times to indicate that a challenge is being made. All those who are being challenged must produce their coin right away. Anyone who fails to do so is responsible for purchasing the next round of drinks for those who indicated membership by producing their coins, including the challenger. On the other hand, if everyone who is challenged produces a coin, the person who initiated the challenge is then responsible for the drinks.
Military Challenge Coins
There are a number of theories suggesting how challenge coins originated. They were even thought to have been used in the Roman Empire, as a sort of reward for soldiers. Another theory suggests that their use originated in the American army during World War II. Challenge coins are still common in the United States military.
Sports Challenge Coins
Sports challenge coins are relatively new when it comes to types of sports memorabilia. Sports teams can customize them with their emblem and they are then given out to members to indicate membership. In the case of sports, these coins can also serve as collectors’ items.
Tournament coins are a variation of challenge coins. They may feature an engraved coat of arms or symbol of a particular tournament—including a date to identify when the tournament took place and, if the tournament takes place annually, how many years it has taken place. Tournament coins may given to all participants in a particular tournament to commemorate the event.