The Brass Tacks On Challenge Coins

The Brass Tacks on Challenge Coins is they have saved lives. They have honored the men and women of the United States military. They have been presented to dignitaries such as president challenge coins, heads of state, men and women who have taken up arms to protect and defend America from its inceptions and birth in 1776 to the present day. They are awards. They are tokens of appreciations. They are small forms of military art illustrated in metal, cut, etched and defined demonstrating the details of a command, a unit seal, a warship, a platoon, a division, a submarine, a squadron and so much more. They travel through time and their expression is one of artistic, military mastery, shaping the convictions, courage and heart of a serving patriotic American soldier into a token of remembrance that will last generations. They have been made for heroes, for those who served with them and have had challenge coins made in their honor. They are military challenge coins. What You May Not Know About Challenge Coins might be a little to some and lot to others but its long and interesting past is part of our discussion about challenge coins and from where they have been and where they are going.

They are presented as a token of a job well done!

challenge coins

For centuries, coins have been an important part of military service. Presenting a service member with a military challenge coin is one way in which leaders show their appreciation for the service member’s hard work and dedication.  If you’ve been in the US military as a US Army Soldier, US Navy Sailor, US Marine, US Air Force Airman, or US Coast Guard Coastie or worked for the DOD, you know what a military challenge coin is. They are presented as a token of a job well done.  They’ve been an American military tradition for a century, meant to create unit pride, improve esprit de corps and reward hard work and excellence. They are created to raise unit funds for morale, welfare and recreational activities. They are a defining characteristic of the unit or command they represent illustrating the mascot, logo, unit crest or other elements that honor a military unit. They also demonstrate how the look of a unit has changed over time.

Challenge coins represent everything from a small unit, like a platoon or company to the offices of top leaders like the Secretary of the United States Navy, to First Class Petty Officer’s Associations and Goat lockers. There are also coins made for special events, anniversaries and even nonmilitary leaders. Special events and anniversaries may include but not be limited to US Navy and its veterans like the US Navy Veteran Challenge Coin

US Navy Veteran Challenge Coin

or USMC birthdays held in November of each year. Military coins also depict area of interest to both active duty US military, US Veterans and prior service like US Navy rates from US Navy Boatswain’s Mate challenge coins to coins involving US Navy First Class Petty Officer Associations coined FCPOAs in the United States Navy. Challenge coin designs like the US Navy FCPOA First Class Petty Officer Association Magnum Challenge Coin. Many other challenge coins come to mind and cover a wide expanse of US Navy interest from Hospital Corpsmen to Yeoman to Aviation Ordnancemen coins and US Navy Hospital Information Systems Technicians Mates to US Navy Chief coins created with the highest level of sophistication, detail and creativity.

Many service members and veterans proudly display their challenge coins at their desks or homes or in their shadowboxes, showing off the many missions they’ve been on, the roles they held while on these missions as well as the top military leaders they’ve met and the units for which they’ve worked.

But how did this tradition get started?

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We were curious, so we checked with the National Defense University, Pentagon librarians and historians, as well as those with the U.S. Army Center of Military History and the Naval History and Heritage Command. Based on that research we did not discover any hard fast history and confirmed backgrounds that would provide us with a sound answer the question of how all this challenge coin stuff started. Those military institutions were not able to find any written records, probably because the challenge coin tradition didn’t start as an officially approved activity. It was below the radar and a niche that all knew but no one put into a more business sense like it is today. So we delved into the modern-day oral histories of the world – also known as the internet – to see what I could find. The findings were as far ranged as anticipated.

The Most Common Myth About Challenge Coins

The most well-known and famous story that the mythology of challenge coins produced linked the challenge coin tradition back to World War I. As the U.S. started building up its Army Air Service, many men volunteered to serve. It was both a significant military historical event and one that involved the US military in its first massive European military adventure. One of those men was a affluent lieutenant who wanted to give each member of his unit a memento, so he ordered several coin-sized bronze medallions to be made. The first challenge coins to be produced.The Brass Tacks On Challenge Coins 2The US Army lieutenant put his own metal medallion in a small leather pouch that he wore around his neck. A brief time later, his airplane was shot down over Germany. He survived but was captured by a German patrol, who took all of his identifiable items so he would have no way to identify himself if he escaped. What they didn’t take fortunately for the lieutenant was the small pouch with the challenge coin as luck would have it. Who knew that special moment, mistake on the part on the Germans would create a 500 million dollar industry decades later. NASCAR had its moonshiners in its history and the US military had a leather pouch and a single medallion.

The lieutenant was taken to a small town near the front lines during World War 1. Despite his lack of identification, he managed to find some civilian clothing and escaped anyway, eventually stumbling into a French outpost. The French soldiers being wary of anyone not in uniform, didn’t recognize his accent and jumped to the conclusion he was an enemy.

They initially planned to execute him, since they couldn’t ID him. But the lieutenant, remembering he still had the small pouch with coin around his neck, pulled out the coin to show the soldiers his unit’s insignia. One of the Frenchmen recognized that insignia, so he was spared. Despite the lack of ability to communicate the unit logo found on the coin was significant like it is today displaying many important facts, dates and features associated with the unit, command, ship, submarine, squadron or similar interest or activity found in the US military.

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Challenge coins have been an American military tradition for nearly a century. They have become a mainstay of tradition in passing down the history of a unit from one soldier to another and this is done In units throughout the world, and perhaps more so at deployed locations, personnel of the U.S. Armed Forces carry, collect and trade unit challenge coins.

Instead of being shot, the lieutenant was given a bottle of wine (it was the French remember), probably as a form of reparation for his initial treatment. It worked out either way. When he finally made it back to his squadron, it became a tradition for all service members to carry a unit-emblazoned coin at all times, just in case. Saving lives was the precursor to military challenge coins and the message it carried was one of unit, one of the military and one of America.

Not Everyone Believes That Depiction On Challenge Coins

While that story sounds cool, Air Force Historical Research Agency archivist Barry Spink isn’t buying it. It almost sounded too good to be true.

Mr. Spink said he’d been told in the 1990s that the tradition started during the Vietnam War, when an Army infantry-run bar tried to keep non-infantrymen away by forcing “outsiders” to buy drinks for the whole bar if they couldn’t prove they had been in combat. I smell a challenge. The “proof” started with enemy North Vietnamese bullets, then got a little out of control with grenades, rockets and unexploded ordnance. They certainly liked to keep it interesting. Gotta love the grunts! So a coin-sized item emblazoned with the unit’s insignia became the accepted form of proof. It was circular and had unit information on it providing proof.

This tradition – now known as a coin check – continues today, hence it being called a “challenge” coin.

challenge coin in hand

One More Possibility When It Comes To Challenge Coins

Dating back to the Vietnam War and the 1960’s an article written about challenge coins might also shed some light into its origins.

“A member of the 11th Special Forces Group took old coins, had them over stamped with a different emblem, then presented them to unit members, according to Roxanne Merritt, curator of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Museum at Fort Bragg, N.C. A former commander of the 10th SFG picked up on the idea, becoming the first to mint a unit coin for the U.S. military unit. The 10th group remained the only Army unit with its own coin until the mid-1980s, Merritt said, when ‘an explosion took place and everybody started minting coins.’”

So if you’ve ever wondered how the challenge coin came about, you can take your challenge coin story pick you want to believe!

Challenge Coin Minting Is Like The US Coin Mint

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Would you believe that challenge coins are produced with the very same construction, metals in some cases, and similar technologies. A coins begins with a die or mold and is often displayed in a 3d image so that the various layers of detail can be shown. The mold produces the coin by stamping out a metal disk, often circular in nature but now always, producing a rough coin with various imperfections around the edge. The next step is to “debur” the coins removing these imperfections producing a raw but nearly finished challenge coin. The process would stop at this juncture if the coin required no additional hand painted enamel and coloring making it a metal stamped coin. When color is requested the challenge coin moves to the painting room where liquid enamel is hand painted onto the surface of the coins.

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Depending on the challenge coin and its layers and complexity the enamel would require highly details and skilled hands to apply it. The challenge coin must have what is referred to in the industry as “cups” which are quite literally are small cups or recessed areas that hold the liquid enamel until it has time to set and dry.

Once the enamel has been set each coin is then taken to a quality control (QC) are where each coin is inspected for any issues and set aside if a problem is observed. This is one of the requirements of any quality focused challenge coin company. Every challenge coin makes a difference and ensuring they are produced to the exact level of the highest quality controls is what should be expected.

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Where In The World Are Challenge Coins Now?

As science has evolved and creativity has found new heights the development of challenge coins has seen a new era in both design but also in manufacturing. At its zenith are the few remaining coin companies that not only produce challenge challenge coins but also go deeper and produce coins they have developed from their own creative instincts and made into original challenge coins with options to have custom engraving added to them on a single coin basis. You would like a US Navy Veteran challenge coin for example for a shadowbox or placed on a wall displaying your time in service but have your name, rate, ship and dates of service added to it. It can be done. Northwest Territorial Mint was the leader in the challenge coin industry when it came to engraving on a single challenge coin for its customers. Recently NWTM has displayed on its website that it no longer is accepting orders. Because of this at least one other company has stepped up to provide these services in the challenge coin engravable arena and that is Vision-Strike-Coins.Com.

Custom Challenge Coins

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As of July 16, 2018 we visited several makers of custom challenge coins to see if they displayed or provide an engraving service on single bought coins and did not see any reference to an engravable coin offered in single purchases. The companies Kidder Corp and USDOD Coins who clearly states “U.S. DOD Coins is an exclusive challenge coin company who provides custom made challenge coins”, Challenge Coins Lt that also states they are a custom challenge coin company. These companies and many more across the internet focus on custom challenge coins and that is great but offering custom engravable coins for single coins is reserved for a small group of challenge companies that appear to be offering this service to members of the United States military and all of its branches. The movement to custom engraving is presently reserved by a select few challenge coin companies verses the many custom challenge coin companies that populate the industry presently.

Military Coins For Veterans

Without exception whether you believe one story or the next it can easily be said that US military challenge coins are a part of the military fabric that ties one solder to another, one command to another, passes down its history for others to experience and is something that brings back memories of ones time in service. US Veterans who make up an active part of the growing military coin collectors around today see more than ever the variety of styles, art and construction that make up a challenge coin. These US Veterans have served in wars, battles and conflicts for decades. Their military coins are an archive and look into the US Military from WWI, WW2, Vietnam War, Cold War, Desert Storm, OIF, OEF and so many of our other military engagements we have been though together as warriors and as Americans.

Without exception the military challenge coins has transformed from a life savings device, to a cottage industry to a way of life. They are one of the most collected items both inside the US Military and out. The modern day military coins has been transformed into trinkets bearing a  variety of shapes and sizes, colors and display with a great deal of creativity the information most important to that command or military unit. They are now top-of-the-line military design and challenge coin companies whose entire business centers around the making of custom military challenge coins and doing a fantastic job of it

Making Challenge Coins Great Again!

President challenge coins have been minted and found their way to the White House in Washington, DC. like the President Donald J Trump Challenge Coin.

Donald J Trump Commander In Chief Coin

In one case a custom President Challenge coin was produced for the US Navy Submarine USS Illinois

and produced in honor of its christening where the coin was then crafted by Vision Strike Coins for the crew of this honorable warship and then subsequently mailed to the then presiding First Lady, Michelle Obama, who was present at the ships launching and would later be the recipient of this custom challenge coin.