Small metal discs or medallions that bear a unique insignia or identifying imprint, these are examples of coins that are not true currency but emblems of honor, also known as challenge coins. The exact origin of this tradition is unclear. The most common story involves honoring flight squadrons in WWI. Rumor has it that a coin medallion served as the only form of identification for a captured pilot to prevent his execution by friendly forces. This led to military units and civilian organizations issuing similar uniquely imprinted small coins or metal markers to denote membership. Today, honor coins are collectible symbols of achievement.
Where the Challenge Comes In
Typically, this metal emblem serves as marker of membership. In a group or organization, the tradition of challenge ensures members carry their tokens with them as identification at all times. A challenger will slap his coin onto a hard surface or bring it out at an unexpected time. In response, every other member in the room must produce their emblem. As a drinking game, anyone failing to carry the coin owes the others a round of drinks. If everyone has their medallion, the challenger buys drinks.
Over the years, the coins have become symbols of recognition or award. For example, restaurant giant Darden offers markers for employees who reach milestones in service. A coin is available for those who work for the corporation for one year. Employees get a second one for three years and another for five years of employment. Each award is more valuable than the last. The five-year coin is gold not bronze, for example. Higher levels of service may have semi-precious stones.
In organizations, a coin might serve as a marker of ranking or level of success. Completing a project or fulfilling a goal leads to a formal coin award. The small emblems are commonplace in the Eagle Scouts, NFL and even Harley Davison bike clubs. They serve as tools to help motivate and boost morale for members.
Challenge emblems have become a collectible commodity. The Challenge Coin Association boasts of over 700 international members who swap favorite coins. Military coins are among the most collectible. Other coins that may become valuable over time include Disney coins, scouting organization symbols, and medals that are part of popular culture. For instance, Iron Man-2 challenge coins were given to Air Force personnel at Edwards Air Force Base after completion of the movie. This was a thank you for letting them use the site for filming.
Challenge coins offer a piece of history in medallion format. Whether you are a member of the military, valued employee, or an active participant in an organization, these coins establish your place. They cost little to make but provide recipients with something they can cherish for a lifetime.
- Photo Credit: title="Club Obi Wan Challenge Coin - Obverse" by puuikibeach, on Flickr
- Photo Credit: title="Second wedding Challenge Coin I've seen today" by RobotSkirts, on Flickr