A challenge coin is a small piece of metal, often shaped like a coin but which can be any shape, which is used to represent an organization or individual. At first, it was early combat pilots, then the idea caught on to the rest of the military.
Initially, the first challenge coins had a hallowed tradition as critical means for the identification of downed pilots. Now, fire departments, police officers, government, nonprofits, and private businesses all make their own coins to be used for any number of purposes.
At first challenge coins would have been an inch or so in diameter, but now the traditional challenge coin is a 1.75” round coin. The coin face is filled in with various imagery, words, and symbols representing an organization or person.
For example, an Army Colonel might have the Eagle insignia which represents their rank, along with their name, unit emblem, and perhaps an inspirational statement or quote.
The edge of the coin, which is usually about ⅛” thick, can also be engraved with words or, more commonly, serial numbers encompassing the coin’s whole production run– for example 001-100.
A challenge coin tells a story
A challenge coin is unique, is limited in production, and tells a story: a story not only about the organization but also about the person who received it and the person who made it.
They are given out as informal awards for a job well done, for participation in a major event–such as military ceremonies and ball or anniversaries–or even to promote a business or organization to customers or outside officials.
Many people even make challenge coin business cards for this purpose, since most people throw away paper cards and instead are using metal coins with a shape of their choosing to represent themselves and give to big or prospectively big customers.
In some cases, challenge coins are also commissioned and sold for fundraising purposes, specifically to be used for disaster relief. We are making a coin for a customer who wants to use the proceeds of the coin’s sale to benefit Hurricane Harvey victims, for example.
When we tell people what challenge coins are out in the everyday world, they often have no idea and are surprised to hear it is such a big thing. It is like that even for people in the military or in government organizations, with a large number of people making their own custom coins and selling them to colleagues and trading networks for coin collectors helping to facilitate things. Challenge coins are a competitive world, with people continually advancing the envelope of what is possible.
Challenge Coins – The Tradition
Traditionally, challenge coins are passed from one person to the other via a handshake, with the coin in the palm of the hand.
It is intended to not be seen, following with the idea that the challenge coin is an informal tradition and award, not something that is even officially recognized by the military or other organizations.
One of the more interesting traditions related challenge coins is going out drinking with colleagues. At a bar, when someone presents their challenge coin, anyone at the table also has to present their challenge coin, preferably one from the same command or organization. If everyone presents their coin, the challenger has to buy a round of beers, while if anyone that is challenged doesn’t have their, they must buy a round. This is just one of many traditions around challenge coins, and we actively encourage our customers to start their own and share it with us!
The Different Challenge Coin Styles
As mentioned the traditional challenge coin is a round shaped coin that is about 1.75” or 2” in diameter.
However, as challenge coins have gotten increasingly popular over time, people have had to differentiate their coins by getting increasingly creative in their designs. Now, coins feature any number of different shapes, from the recognizable to the non recognizable. Some coins also feature cutouts, which are holes within the coin that go clear through to the other side.
Another way people are making new challenge coins is by turning them into bottle openers, and thus keeping going the proud military tradition of drinking beer. We can fit bottle openers into a variety of different shapes and placements in order to get creative as well.
Military Challenge Coins
As stated earlier, the military is where the challenge coin tradition began and it is also where some of the most creative challenge coins are still made.
Smaller units within bigger commands that regularly interact with one another are well known to be intensely proud of their unit’s coins and competitive when it comes to always one-upping each other to make the best coin.Each service treats their coins differently and seek to achieve different looks with their coins.
Navy coins have a reputation for being more humorous or have interesting images, while Army coins tend to stay very professional but at the same time they get extremely creative with their designs and shapes.
Navy coins are also used as tickets for entrance into important events, such as Birthday or Khaki Balls.
Navy Challenge Coins
As Navy veterans, we have done more Navy coins than any other kind of coin, and such examples of groups who make coins include:
- Ships of all sizes from Carriers to frigates and submarines
- Navy air wings
- Special Operations forces
- Individuals for promotions or retirements
- Commemorations of important events like a change of command, commissioning of a ship, or in honor of a deployment or operation
Army Challenge Coins
Army units are almost certainly the most competitive when it comes to making the best looking challenge coins. The difficulty for them is that these coins will typically be handed out by senior officers of the unit, so they must remain professional. In this way, Army challenge coin designers work with us to make some of the coolest looking coins in very unique shapes in order to remain competitive and still look professional.
Among the many Army challenge coins we’ve designed are:
- Military Police
- Chemical Brigades
- Deployment coins
- Coins representing every kind of Army unit imaginable
Business Challenge Coins
We find that any sector that a large number of veterans means challenge coins will follow as well. Although veterans tend to go work in government after the military, many do go into business either at corporations or as self-starters like ourselves.
With businesses, the tried and seemingly still true method of leaving a client with your contact information is a business card. But the business card just gets thrown out by almost everyone, or lost in the stack of hundreds of other business cards people have sitting in drawers and collecting dust.
For the modern business, we are selling challenge coins as great ways to leave a mark on an organization’s most important clients. Such coins typically include the company logo and any associated logo, along with their name, important symbols, and other important ideas. For example, we made a coin for a wealth management firm that featured a stock market bull and bear, while an insurance company made a coin to give out to their truck drivers, serving a useful purpose by helping to remind their truck drivers to drive safe.
We have also made several coins for SpaceX and the aerospace industry, featuring extremely creative scenes of rockets lifting off into space, rockets being built, and rockets heading to Mars even!
Smaller companies can also make coins and would typically include contact information such as a phone number or email address, a website, and anything else important to what they do. We have made such coins for even seemingly unexpected businesses like a concrete company and also have our own massive Embleholics coin we give out to all of our customers.
With a challenge coin business card, we have found that customers will not only hold onto and continue to see it as a reminder of future business, but also share it with their friends. Although it is much more expensive than a normal business card, we find that they make great investments if you exercise care in who receives one.
Law Enforcement Challenge Coins
Given the clear connection between the military and law enforcement, not only in similar duties but also with veterans who become police officers, you would expect to see lots of challenge coins as well. Although this is true, it is much more common among larger police departments and Federal law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, Customs and Border Protection, Secret Service, and Homeland Security.
Among police departments, challenge coins are typically a big deal and are expected to be highly professional looking, often to be used for award ceremonies, important events, or informal awards. However, this is one of the few areas where challenge coins have still been slower to catch on with.
Federal Government law enforcement organizations love to make challenge coins, and given that they use them quite differently than anyone else does, they arguably come out looking among the most funny and interesting of all challenge coins. A homeland security officer once created a gold coin with planes flying over bridges and into San Francisco airport, while others have even been too graphic for us to discuss what was on them.
Finally, one the most impressive challenge coins we have even done was a Secret Service coin in the shape of a shield badge. On the back was a wheel, the ‘wheel of misfortune’. A metal arrow pointed to wherever the wheel stopped, with the wheel’s labels being jokes about the worst Secret Service assignments one could get.
Firefighter Challenge Coins
Firefighters are, surprisingly, as into challenge coins as any military challenge coin aficionados are. Perhaps it is the friendly rivalry and competition between different shifts of a firehouse, or between different stations within the same fire district that drives firefighters to want to make the best challenge coins possible.
A couple things are almost ubiquitously found on fire department challenge coins: colors matching their firetruck, images of the firetruck and, less commonly, depictions of the firehouse or other structure related to the fire department. Embleholics is extremely careful with depicting buildings and vehicles, using as much detail as we do when making Mason coins. We are also extremely careful when picking the right color on the final coin design, as we have numerous shades of red and picking the right one can be very difficult.
Fortunately, with the time we spend on each customer’s coin, Embleholics has become well known as a professional and knowledgeable supplier for firefighters and fire departments wanting to make their own challenge coin.
Mason Challenge Coins
A lot of people may not realize that Masonry is still an important part of our country’s history and even current culture, and freemason organizations remain strong and active throughout the country. With Mason’s, they also like to make challenge coins.
Arguably the most important things to Mason’s are their symbols which they use as guides and reminders for living a successful life. Another important part is their buildings or halls. We have made a number of Mason coins and the challenge with them is often getting the placement of symbols correct and adhering to a high degree of accuracy and craftsmanship when it comes to the details hidden within both.
With so much detail being needed, this is a perfect example of why our design process works to the benefit of our customers and to create the best outcome possible with our challenge coin designs. We work with our artists on our designs until our customers are completely satisfied with their design, to the point of perfection.
Sports Challenge Coins
Embleholics has been commissioned to create sports challenge coins for both sports teams and coins with the occasional creative sports theme. In the latter case, we created one of the most impressive coins and fidget spinners that we have seen anywhere. The five spokes of the spinner were Stanley cup trophies with Chief Petty Officer anchor emblazoned on them. The center focused on the theme of the Penguins and Steelers, along with the years that they won their trophies. It was a simply unbelievable challenge coin.
It’s well known that sports leagues, particularly the NFL but all of them really, like to honor veterans and military with appreciation events or special nights at the stadium. Teams will often give out special items to attendees or specifically to veterans at their events. This is a simple, ideal way of honoring veterans, which also makes sense given the military and veteran connection with challenge coins. For example, we worked with the Dallas Mavericks to create a coin for them, with their logos and symbols honoring each branch. We made a similar looking coin for the University of Washington as well.
Challenge Coin Trading
As mentioned earlier, challenge coin trading networks exist for anyone to take part in, but more commonly are taken part in by government employees and active duty military and veterans. In these trading networks, found on their own websites, Facebook groups, and elsewhere, people barter back and forth in order to obtain rare or particularly awesome coins.
Some people obsessively collect coins, while others just browse and admire the complexity and artistic value in some of the coins people try to sell. Coins may be sold for money, with rarer coins going for $40 or $50 or more, or, more commonly, people will use coins as the medium of exchange, as perhaps one person is looking for a certain coin, whereas another person is more interested in something else.
Many big corporations are natural places for veterans to go work in, particularly if that corporation is in defense or aerospace or otherwise promotes veteran hiring for their skills. With veterans being such a big part of some of these corporations, people like them or others like sports teams love to honor veterans for service. Nonprofits and governments similarly honor veterans frequently with a challenge coin.
We believe that a military tradition such as challenge coins should remain closely tied to the military and veteran community, not only in order to make sure new challenge coins keep some kind of tradition with them, but also because we believe something so closely tied with the military should also support the livelihoods of former military members.
Many companies out there employ foreigners or are otherwise not affiliated with the military or being a veteran. We employ only veterans and primarily veterans with service-connected disabilities. We value the ability to work with veterans and strive to improve veterans’ lives as part of everything we do.
Work With Embleholics
We hope our informational article about challenge coins was informative to you. We are challenge coin experts and our main purpose with this article is to get our message about great challenge coins out there to the public and because we care about helping people make great coins.
Should you ever think about making your own challenge coins, whether it be for your own purpose or a new one you think of, we would be happy to help out or generally just answer any questions that you have. Thank you for taking the time to read about our company and challenge coins.