According to one legend, the first challenge coin spared the life of an American WWI soldier who a German patrol had captured. Another story dates the origin of challenge coins to 17th century France. The Huguenots, persecuted Protestants who refused to leave France, carried around medallions as a secretive means of personal identification.
However the tradition started, we know that custom challenge coins are still wildly popular in the USA today. The military, sports groups, interest clubs, and corporations use challenge coins to commemorate goods deeds and recognize membership or service.
Are you thinking of starting a coin project for an upcoming event or ceremony? Read on for our guide to designing the coin you need.
Challenge Coins Explained
Challenge coins are far more than just simple trinkets. They have a colorful history steeped in bravery and camaraderie.
What Is a Challenge Coin?
Challenge coins are small, typically circular, medallion-like trinkets that superficially resemble a coin. They’re most often made of various types of metal and feature the logo or emblem of the organization they represent. This could be a sports team mascot, a company logo, or military insignia.
While most challenge coins have little to no value for the regular person–except for presidential challenge coins and other rare coins coveted by collectors. However, they almost always hold immense sentimental value for whomever they were presented to or that person’s family members.
As tradition dictates, people keep their challenge coins in wall displays or collectors’ boxes, and some carry them on their person.
Challenge Coin History
In the early to mid 20th century, challenge coins were predominantly restricted to the armed forces. In fact, challenge coins are an integral part of military tradition.
In World War One, soldiers took to carrying their coins with them everywhere they went. When they headed to the bar, they’d need to present either an enemy bullet or their coin to get in. And the “challenge” part of the challenge coin has its own story.
If you met your fellows in arms in the bar for a drink, one person would yell “coin check.” The last person to present their challenge coin would have to buy the next round of drinks.
Who Uses Challenge Coins?
A wide range of organizations has adopted the challenge coin hobby in recent years.
Today, a CEO might give a challenge coin to a retiring member of staff. A soccer coach might commemorate a winning season by handing every member of their team a challenge coin. A police department might award a brave police officer with a challenge coin.
People use them to boost morale and reward commitment, leadership, and service. In some cases, they’re even turned into tourist souvenirs.
There is also a thriving online trading market for challenge coins, driven by passionate collectors searching for rare or unusual coins.
Types of Coins
Military challenge coins are still the most popular type of coin made today–due to their long history of use in the armed forces. But their customizability has given rise to variations of the tradition.
Affiliative Challenge Coins
An affiliative challenge coin is any coin that represents an organization. They typically bear the symbol of an organization, usually with some text–like a motto–and establishment date. These kinds of challenge coins are handed out to organization members as a physical symbol of their connection to the group.
Commemorative or Award Coins
Whereas affiliative challenge coins prove membership, commemorative coins highlight someone’s remarkable achievements in a particular field.
This might commemorate a marathon a person ran, a yearly sales target a person reached, or an exam they passed. Everyone from a family member to the HR department might choose to make a challenge coin from someone or a group of people.
These coins would typically include imagery related to the event or achievement they’re commemorating. They’ll also have a date and perhaps some explanatory text regarding the details of the achievement.
Military coins, like these military challenge coins from CustomChallengeCoins.net, are given to service personnel in the air force, marines, navy, coast guard, and army. They’re used to commemorate rises in rank, bravery, leadership, excellence in service, and other personal or group achievements.
Military coins tend to feature traditional military symbols and phrases. They’re almost always either bare stamped metal or enameled in American red, white, and blue.
Creating Custom Coins
If you’re looking to create a custom challenge coin, you have a plethora of design options. There’s a veritable rainbow of colors, materials, and styles to choose from.
Style and Size
While challenge coins are traditionally circular, they don’t have to be! You can order an octagonal coin, a shield-shaped coin, a star, or any shape of your choosing.
Sizes range from 1.5 inches to 3 inches in diameter. Larger coins can obviously fit a lot more decorative elements. And don’t forget to consider whether you want decoration on both sides of the coin or just one–double-sided coins are the most common option.
Made of What?
The manufacturer will first need to turn your design into a digital file to make a challenge coin. Then, they’ll use this file to create a mold for your coin using a CNC machine. Almost like a stamp, this mold is pressed into the soft metal of a plain coin to imprint your design into it.
You can choose whether you want a gold or silver plated coin, shiny or satin-finish brass, nickel, or copper… Most manufacturers offer dozens of metal options.
Colors and Enamel
Next comes the fun part: choosing the colors for your design. Of course, if you decide to go with a plain challenge coin, you’ll end up with stamped metal. But if you choose to enamel or print your design, you can get creative with color!
Printed designs offer unlimited colors, similar to a photograph or poster. If you want an enamel pin, you’ll need to choose between hard or soft enamel. Both have limited color options compared with printing, but they look more traditional.
Design Meaningful Custom Challenge Coins
As you can see, the sky’s the limit when designing custom challenge coins today. If you’re confused between something traditional or fancy, stop thinking about your organization’s ethos and the recipient. What challenge coin features would be the most meaningful?
For more advice on commemorating events in memorable ways, head back to our blog to read our other articles.
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