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One of the traditions that is often misunderstood and unknown is that of the military challenge coins. But did you know that challenge coins are for more than just the military?
If you grew up with a parent that had a collection of challenge coins, they likely earned this through some type of group they were in. It could be the military, but it could also be one of the other many groups that provide these today.
Challenge coins are one of those things that club members or people that are part of secret groups have, but where do they originate from? Why are they such a symbol of comradery today?
Keep reading to get a brief but accurate history of challenge coins.
The Origins of Challenge Coins
Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to know where the first challenge coins really came from. This is because they go back so much farther than our modern history.
The first known example of a solder that was monetarily rewarded for their valor was in Ancient Rome. If a solder did a good job in battle, he would get paid for that day and a coin as a bonus.
Sometimes, this coin was minted with the mark of the legion that it came from, which allowed men to hold onto their coins as a memento of their experience (rather than as actual money).
The First Official Challenge Coin
While, again, we don’t know when military challenge coins really started, we do know of one story specifically from WWI that counts as the “first official” challenge coin.
A wealthy officer had bronze medallions minted with the squadron’s symbol and gave them to his soldiers. Afterward, the Germans shot down and captured a member of this squadron, and they took everything except his medallion.
The soldier escaped and found his way into France, where they thought he was a spy and sentenced him to be executed. However, in an effort to show who he was, he showed the Frenchmen the medallion and this confirmed his identity. He was able to make his way back to his squadron safely as a result.
What Is the “Challenge” Part of Challenge Coins?
Challenge coins are called such because of another story that we know from WWII.
This started in Germany, as Americans stationed there took part in the tradition of conducting pfennig checks. A pfennig was the lowest coin in Germany, so if you didn’t have one when it was time to pay, you had to buy the beer.
Over time, this tradition evolved from being a pfennig to being a medallion from a unit or squadron. The challenge was slamming your medallion down on the bar; if you didn’t have one, you lost. If everyone had one, the challenger was the one to pay for the group.
Different Types of Challenge Coins and Variations Today
Today, challenge coins are about much more than just military practices. You use challenge coins as a way to signify that you’re part of a specific group.
For example, US presidents now get their own special challenge coins, starting with Bill Clinton. Police departments commonly have challenge coins as well to represent their specific precinct, while even Linux users have their own version of the coins.
If you want to have coins for your collection, you can do that easily even if you aren’t trying to buy them for a whole group.
Understanding the History of Challenge Coins
At its core, the history of challenge coins relates back to soldiers and warriors defending their people. Today, however, they are a way for people within a group to recognize each other and feel a sense of pride in their communities.
You can get challenge coins as memorable gifts for your group!
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