Anyone interested in White House commemorative coins has undoubtedly heard of presidential challenge coins. However, few know the history behind this unique custom. The history itself is interesting, and the coins represent a unique symbol. 

So, what are presidential challenge coins? How have they changed over the years and across presidential terms? Keep reading to find out the answers to these questions and more. 

What Are Presidential Challenge Coins? 

Presidential challenge coins are coins that represent a president’s term. The president often gives them out, and they may be available through the White House. 

presidential challenge coins

The coins typically feature an image of the president. Specific coins may even highlight a specific event. For example, presidential inauguration coins highlight the inauguration. 

The History of Presidential Challenge Coins

Commander-in-Chief challenge coins are essentially a specific type of military challenge coin. Military challenge coins have existed since ancient Roman times. Soldiers and military commanders received them in recognition of certain accomplishments or for participation in certain groups. 

As the U.S. President is the U.S. military’s Commander-in-Chief, it makes sense that the position would come with a relevant military coin. However, since this is such an important and public-facing position, the importance of Commander-in-Chief collectible coins is equally significant. 

The tradition of these specific challenge coins started with President Clinton. Other presidents have continued to use and give them out. Because of this, they have solidified themselves as an important sector in the world of challenge coins. 

Specific Presidential Coins

The past few presidents have all made their mark on the landscape of presidential coins. You can see this in the designs of the coins themselves and how the presidents used them. 

President Clinton

President Clinton embraced and elevated the tradition of presidential challenge coins. He would receive military coins from many service members, enough that he started his own coin collection. He felt so strongly about these coins that he included an image of his coin collection in his presidential portrait. 

President Bill Clinton was an avid collector of challenge coins, as seen here in his official White House portrait.

He then began to hand out presidential challenge coins on a more regular basis. He took the practice from a purely military one to something that anyone could embrace. He effectively started the modern system of presidential souvenir coins.

President George W. Bush

President George W. Bush continued and even slightly expanded the trend President Clinton established. He would hand presidential challenge coins out during important visits from political figures. However, he would also slip one into a handshake while interacting with a regular guest. 

President Obama

President Obama used presidential challenge coins as a symbolic message. He regularly presented them to those guarding Marine One and Air Force One as a gesture of thanks. He also left them at the graves of fallen soldiers as a physical token of appreciation and empathy. 

President Obama gives Fort Bliss Commanding General Twitty a challenge coin in El Paso, Texas

President Barack Obama gives Fort Bliss Brig. Gen. Stephen Twitty a coin as he shakes his hand at Biggs Army Airfield, Fort Bliss, Texas, May 10.

President Trump

President Trump’s connection to this tradition emphasized a connection to himself. His presidential memorabilia coins dropped many of the traditional features in favor of his own imagery and his “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan. The change in this era marked a change in the very nature of presidential challenge coins. 

President Trump gives a custom trump challenge coin to military service members

How To Get Presidential Challenge Coins

Traditionally, the president bestowed presidential challenge coins. He gave them as a gift or as a symbol of appreciation. 

But you can also buy a selection of challenge coins right from the White House gift shop. 

There is also a thriving secondary market for these challenge coins. However, be wary when shopping, as there are fake coins within this market. 

Create Your Custom Challenge Coin

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