Challenge coins date back as far as the Roman Empire when they were handed out to soldiers to commemorate their achievements. More recently, they started to become popular during World War I where a popular story arose of an air pilot who was captured and stripped of everything except for his challenge coin. When attempting to return to American forces, he was captured by the French and was thought to be a German. To prove his allegiance, he showed his executioner his challenge coin and was spared. Instead of a bullet to the head, he was given a bottle of wine. From there, challenge coins have become a big part of military recognition.
One use of challenge coins is to show proof that a member belongs to an organization. When challenged, a person just needs to show their challenge coin to prove that they belong to the group. Challenges are usually loudly announced, in which case a member will be forced to show their coin publically to prove that they aren’t an infiltrator. This helps morale and makes members more trustworthy of each other, but has been known to do the exact opposite when challenges create grudges.
The military uses them as an honor system. They are awarded to soldiers that have made an achievement within the military. There are game’s that are designed around the coins, such as stealing another member’s coin which forces them to buy a drink for the thief. Sometimes, everyone will be asked to show their coin and the highest ranking coin will be bought a drink by lower ranking officials. Of course every unit has their own games with the coins, but this shows one use for them.
Challenge coins can be made from any number of materials, making them either valuable for sale or only valuable to the holder. Most coins will be made of zinc-alloy castings or die struck bronze since these are cheap materials that allows them to be mass produced. However, some can be made of anything as valuable as 24 carat gold. They will be engraved with some sort of insignia for the group, as well as words that have some sort of significant meaning.
Challenge coins are a cool way to award successful members of an organization. They have a rich history and are a bit different than standard awards. While commonly used in the military, they can be useful in any group.