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A Historical Look at Military Challenge Coins

Challenge coins are a highly-collectible piece of memorabilia that many people in the military, law enforcement and similar groups gravitate toward. They represent allegiance, honor, duty and camaraderie. Thehistoryof challenge coins is a subject of debate, but their origins can be traced back as far as ancient times to the Roman Empire.

Ancient Rome

The Roman Empire was one of the first human civilizations to form precious metals into coins for currency. In Ancient Rome, soldiers were sometimes awarded coins for fighting with valor in battles. Some of the coins bore the insignia of the soldier’s legion, but they were not referred to or used as challenge coins in the sense that they are today. Roman soldiers would often keep the coins as a badge of honor rather than spend them on women or wine.

World War I

The first truechallenge coinsdate back to the era of World War I, which began in 1914. One example is a coin that was created by a wealthy officer who led a flying squadron. He had the insignia of his squadron stamped on some custom-made coins, and he gave them out to his men as a sign of camaraderie and pride. One of the pilots was shot down over Germany and captured. He managed to escape capture, and he fled to France. The French thought he was a German spy, and they sentenced him to be executed. He averted death by showing his challenge coin that proved his affiliation with the American flying squadron.


In the Vietnam War, which began in 1956, U.S. Special Forces worked alongside the CIA to perform covert operations. The members of the 1st. Special Forces Group bore military challenge coins that were designed to prove their affiliation if the need should arise. The deeds of the group could not be openly acknowledged because the missions were secretive. The coins were a way to award and acknowledge bravery and valor. The front of the coin bore the unit name, an upward-pointing sword and the number one. The Special Forces motto was engraved on the back of the coin.


The coins are still in use by military and other organizations. The tradition of a “coin check” is still practiced in drinking establishments. When a person yells “coin check,” it is a challenge for everyone to show their coins. Everyone who has a coin slaps it down on the table. Those who fail the challenge have to pay for a round of drinks. If everyone has coins, they are compared based on rank or age. The first United States President to stamp a challenge coin was William J. Clinton. It was stamped with the number 42 because he was the 42nd President.

Many military people proudly display their challenge coins today. They are a good conversation piece. It can also become a rewarding hobby to collect and trade these fascinating coins.

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