What is a Challenge Coin?
Chances are, if you’re affiliated with the military in some capacity, you’ve seen them before; flat metal tokens emblazoned with a unit patch or a crest. These collectible coins are exchanged for a multitude of reasons, often given out in recognition of merit, or to people visiting military installations. Challenge Coins occupy a unique place in the history of the American military.
The tradition is commonly believed to have originated during World War 1. According to the story, as American recruits volunteered to join the newly-formed flying squadrons, an affluent lieutenant had a bronze Challenge Coin created for every member of his unit. One young pilot in that unit, having sustained heavy damage to his aircraft, was forced to land behind enemy lines. When the Germans captured him, they confiscated all of his means of identification—all except for the coin, which they overlooked during their search.
After staging an escape, the young man hid among the civilization population in plainclothes, slowly making his way back toward his allies. Trouble struck again, however, when he reached a French outpost. Not recognizing his American accent and believing him to be a potential spy, the French soldiers were prepared to shoot him where he stood. Thinking fast, the young man produced his coin—which was stamped with the patch of his unit—as proof of his identity. To the pilot’s relief, one of the soldiers was familiar with the insignia, and before long the American pilot was safety reunited with his unit. From then on, it became customary in that unit to never travel without their Challenge Coins. The trend of creating Challenge Coins and carrying them as good luck charms quickly spread.
This compelling tale of courage and perseverance is emblematic of the spirit of the American military. Fact or fiction, the tale of the young American pilot and his lucky coin is reflected throughout human history. Similar practices to the minting and distribution of Challenge Coins have existed as long as there have been organized armed forces. The Roman Empire was said to gift coins to soldiers who made outstanding achievements. During the Renaissance, coins referred to as Portrait Medals were given out to significant individuals in honor of special events. From antiquity to the modern day, Challenge Coins stand out as a proud military custom, and Celebrate Excellence is happy to help further that legacy.
Every branch of the military is unique, as is every regiment that make up those branches. Whether your unit is part of the Army, Navy, Marines, the Air Force, or the Coast Guard, you carry with you a creed and identity that is distinct. The police and fire departments of the United States also work to protect this country, each adapting to better serve the needs of their communities—and as veterans retired from their positions in the military and transitioned into positions in the police and fire-fighting agencies, they brought with them the Challenge Coin custom, which is becoming an increasingly common practice outside of the armed forces. The sacrifices made to defend the United States and the groups that make those sacrifices both deserve to be honored. Creating a Custom Challenge Coin is one of the best ways to recognize that service.
At Celebrate Excellence, we prefer to mint Challenge Coins out of jewelry-quality brass. Our coins are both durable and weighty, lending the coin a prestige that can’t be matched by the lightweight, brittle iron coins sold by most online coin venders. We use a process called electroplating to give the coins a variety of metal finishes, from gold to silver, shiny to matte. There are multiple paint options to choose from, such as soft enamel (which is color-filled into pockets of raised metal on the surface of the coin) and hard enamel (also called cloisonné, this process results in a perfectly smooth, polished surface). We’re also able to depict highly-detailed scenes in 3D relief, where even the smallest detail stands out prominently against the background. Following your vision, our in-house design team can work closely with you to create custom art for your coin. No
matter which materials you choose, the end result is a highly-customizable, completely personal Challenge Coin.
A Challenge Coin not only represents your organization, it proudly embodies everything accomplished under that organization’s banner. The process of creating a Custom Challenge Coin is more than a matter of simply recreating a unit patch in paint and metal—you’re exemplifying the achievements of your group in a lasting way. As long-time makers of Challenge Coins, with over two-and-a-half million minted to date, we would be thrilled to create a Custom Challenge Coin together with you. We’ve worked with every branch of the United States military to deliver the highest quality coins in the business, all for the purpose of Celebrating Excellence.