Challenge coins represent a historical tradition that is believed to dates all the way back to the Roman Empire as part of a reward system. Challenge coins are most known for their role in the military, given out to members of military units, battalions, or branches to establish a feeling of identity and camaraderie among soldiers.
Although challenge coins have strong ties to the military, they are becoming more common in civilian organizations. Challenge coins are pieces of art, valued on a sentimental level, and that to an outsider, may look like nothing more than a collectible. Nevertheless, it is an honor to be given a challenge coin.
A “coin check” is an challenge specific to an organization that uses challenge coins. One coin-holder challenges another (or a group of coin-holders) to present their coins in a timely manner. If the coin-holder who is challenged produces the coin, then the challenger buys drinks. If the coin-holder who is challenged cannot show their coin (or they produce it last, in a group setting), they buy the drinks. Coin checks are meant to be a fun and playful challenge that keeps the intended camaraderie alive.
Coin check rules vary from organization to organization, and there are no “set-in-stone” rules for challenges. While military traditions typically see coin checks used to determine who buys a round of drinks, civilian groups might use coin checks to gain entrance into a meeting, for example While there aren’t any official rules, general coin check etiquette includes:
Awarding a challenge coin is a big deal, but does not require a ceremony. In fact, giving a challenge coin is typically a private affair, and the actual transaction is traditionally intended to be a very discreet process. For example, when military organizations award coins to deserving comrades, the process is done via handshake. The person awarding the coin holds their hand out to shake the new coin-recipient’s hand, and silently passes the coin on while shaking hands.
Challenge coins are meant to represent identities and hold a great deal of sentimental value. It is important to explain that, as well as any other rules and regulations specific to your group, to anyone you choose to award a coin to. By elaborating on the challenge coin, the associated rules, and the longstanding traditions like coin checks, you are keeping the tradition alive.
Civilians can give challenge coins, and custom challenge coins are becoming more common outside of the military. Examples of civilian organizations that might give challenge coins include:
Even the U.S. President has their own personalized challenge coin that they can present to deserving service members, in their role as Commander in Chief of the military.