A Brief History of the Challenge Coin

February 8, 2022

Challenge coins can have many purposes—but they still are honorable and demand respect. They build camaraderie for those that served in the armed forces and are used as a small token of appreciation. 

With military roots, receiving a challenge coin is a sign of honor.

Wondering about the origin of challenge coins? Keep reading to learn more about and find out about the rules of giving and receiving them.

What Is a Challenge Coin?

Custom challenge coins are small medallions or tokens that symbolize being a member of certain organizations. 

They are typically small (around 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter and about 1/10 of an inch thick). However, sizes may vary. They can even take on other shapes like shields, arrowheads, dog tags, or pentagons.

They are typically made from pewter, nickel, or copper and have various finishes. They have unique designs, and some may be more elaborate than others.


No one is exactly certain when this tradition began, but it is clear it started in the military. It could possibly go back as far as the times of Ancient Rome.

Soldiers received military challenge coins after great military achievements. Back then, the coins were much simpler and sometimes featured the recipient’s portrait. This tradition then continued into the Renaissance period.

During the Renaissance period, mainly royalty received challenge coins. Royalty received these coins for monumental life events, and these coins featured a portrait of the royal member on one side and some sort of symbol on the other side. 

World War I is when the challenge coin was really defined. Some soldiers use these coins today as identification badges to prove they were part of certain units. 

Now, some challenge coins are distributed to other service personnel like firefighters and police officers. The public also uses them. Some businesses exchange these cards just like they do business cards, and they can be used as fundraising tools to raise awareness.

Some companies also use them as rewards.

Why Challenge?

Are you wondering where the “challenge” part comes in? According to stories, it started in World War II in Germany.

Americans stationed in Germany conducted “Pfenning checks” or checks for a low denomination Germain coin. If the solider could not show a Pfenning when someone called “check”, the solider had to buy the beer.

This later turned into a unit medallion check. If a member could not show his unit medallion when someone called “check,” they had to purchase drinks for all those that had the medallions.

The Coins Today

If you get a challenge coin, most of the time you get it during a secret handshake. This isn’t always the case, but it is the tradition of receiving a coin.

You can get a challenge coin for being a part of a fire department, police department, Boy Scouts troop, Lions Club, and more. There are lots of options for challenge coins and they are highly collectible and a long-standing way to show allegiance anytime and anyplace.

And History Continues

Challenge coins and their history teach the meaning of admiration. There’s no better feeling than getting a special reward for your hard work or being a part of a special team. Take pride in your challenge coin!

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