The Challenge Coin

The White House Military Office Security challenge coin, reverse
Visit of President George W. Bush to Busan, Korea challenge coin, reverse
White House Communications Agency, Presidential Communication Command III (PCC)  challenge coin, reverse
Marine Security, Camp David challenge coin
Bill Clinton challenge coin as commander in chief
White House Situation Room challenge coin, reverse
Visit of President George W. Bush to Riga, Latvia challenge coin, reverse
Visit of President George W. Bush to Busan, Korea challenge coin
White House Situation Room challenge coin
Secret Service Las Vegas Field Office challenge coin, reverse
Secret Service Las Vegas Field Office challenge coin
Vice Presidential Communications Officer challenge coin, reverse
Vice Presidential Communications Officer challenge coin
Visit of President George W. Bush to Riga, Latvia challenge coin
Bill Clinton challenge coin as commander in chief, reverse
White House Communications Agency, Presidential Communication Command III (PCC)  challenge coin
Marine Security, Camp David challenge coin, reverse
White House Communications Agency challenge coin, reverse
White House Communications Agency challenge coin
The White House Military Office Security challenge coin

In World War I, the story goes, an airman was shot down over enemy-occupied France and taken prisoner. The airman was able to escape and was ready to return to friendly territory when he was captured by French soldiers. They knew that German soldiers were dressing up as Allied soldiers trying to infiltrate Allied lines. The airman insisted he was an Allied airman and produced this specially produced coin that showed his unit insignia. The French soldier recognized the insignia, had the airman checked out and subsequently freed.

That is the story of the first challenge coin. Did it really happen? I don’t know, but that is the story being told. However, it wasn’t until the 1990s that the challenge coin made its appearance again in the military. In fact, it was a collection of challenge coins presented to President Bill Clinton that really revived its art and history. He displayed many of the challenge coins behind his Oval Office desk on the credenza where they were usually noticed in photos and Oval Office addresses. Those challenge coins are now on display in his presidential library in Arkansas.

So what is a challenge coin? It is usually a 3/4″ or so specially designed and produced metal disk that features the unit insignia, motto and any other kind of special insignia important to the group that produced it. It is a matter of unit pride for each unit member to carry a challenge coin at all times. Why? Well, in case they are challenged, of course.

There are many variations of the rules of challenge, but generally the challenge is this, if a unit member is in a bar somewhere they can challenge other service members by tapping or showing their unit challenge coin. Anyone caught without a challenge coin of their own loses and is expected to pay for the first round of drinks for everyone else. If everyone produces a challenge coin, the one who challenged the others must pay for the first round. Another variation is that once the challenge is met by everyone, the one with the highest ranking challenge coin gets everyone else to buy the first round for them. Alternatively, challenge coins are hotly traded among many members, too.

The challenge coin has gone beyond just military members, though. Every government agency from the White House to the local police troop have produced their own versions of the challenge coins, too. The White House, for example, produces a unique presidential challenge coin for an overseas presidential trip. Each White House agency or department such as HMX-1, Air Force One, Communications, Secret Service, Camp David, Crawford, Texas, and every cabinet member has their own as well.

Many challenge coins are very distinctive and hard to come by. The official challenge coin of President Bush and Vice President Cheney are particularly valuable and hard to find. Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are very collectible, I hear.

I provided a few examples of my own here, limited mostly to the office of the president. If you collect challenge coins of the Executive Branch, I would like to hear from you. There are so many challenge coins available that I will have to limit the discussion to only those issued by the White House, cabinet members, and top government officials such as the Speaker of the House. I invite military and local agencies to begin a community on WorthPoint dedicated to their collectible challenge coin.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to challenge you successfully for a Sam Adams.

No Comments

  1. These are all excellent posts. thanks for the links. You seem to be reading day and night looking for good stuff to post lol.

    • Tom Carrier says:

      Thanks. Early on when WorthPoint was just getting started (this is middle of 2007) I was fortunate to be approached for my interest in presidential/White House memorabilia, the challenge coins being just one.

      However, it has become clear that there is an entirely commercial aspect to collecting challenge coins now, that is, commercial firms are producing them and selling them through gift shops and such.

      So it is hard, sometimes, to know which one is authentic and which ones are made solely for commercial resale. Based on your email name, are you finding this still to be true today? Do you have a large collection yourself? Let me know.

      Tom Carrier

  2. Quite interesting and informative. Thanks for sharing.

  3. John says:

    Tom,

    I have several coins that you may be interested in. If interested send an e-mail to johnfire33@gmail.com