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Collecting Military Challenge Coins - Adding History to Hobby

Updated on April 9, 2011

Military challenge coins can be a great hobby that combines history with collecting. The wide range of designs that feature the branches of the armed forces mean that there can be hundreds of ways to collect these military tokens. Military challenge coins are available from numerous dealers on the web and, increasingly, from local dealer at coin shops, swap meets, flea markets and in local collecting clubs. This hobby can be very affordable since these pieces of memorabilia are being manufactured currently, but the advanced collector may wish to invest in some rare museum-quality coins from the early decades of the last century. Either way, these tokens make a handsome display and are a great way to teach children about history without them realizing it!

Armed Forces Challenge Coins

courtesy of wikipedia
courtesy of wikipedia

Origins of military challenge coins

There is much myth and not as much fact when it comes to the origins of these coins. The widely accepted story of their development stems from the Air Services branch of the United States Army. This apocryphal story tells of a wealthy office who ordered small tokens for each man in his squadron. One of these pilots was subsequently captured and all of his possessions taken except for his token that was in a pouch around his neck. He later escaped, but without documents or a uniform he was not recognized by the French Allies. Only by showing his challenge coin was his life spared. The French soldiers recognized the symbol and later established his identity.

Uses of military challenge coins

While the escaped soldier story certainly demonstrates the usefulness of a challenge coin, the primary use become one of entertainment. Soldiers would challenge one another to produce their coins and if they failed in doing so they would be obligated to buy a round of drinks or perform some menial or embarrassing task. It, thus, became customary to keep the challenge coin within arm's length at all times.

Themes of military challenge coins

The sky is the limit on the scope and breadth of military history featured on these coins. Army challenge coins are some of the oldest in existence and feature great soldiers, weaponry and battles. Navy challenge coins focus mostly on the great sea machines of war: battleships, destroyers, submarines, and aircraft carriers. Marine challenge coins are known for the great slogans and more personal style with mottos and mascots prominently featured. The Air Force is similar to the Navy in that USAF challenge coins are likely to feature one of the great bombers or jets from their arsenal. There are also tokens devoted to the National Guard and the Coast Guard. Of course, foreign countries have their own challenge coins as well. This much variety means a collector can decide on a niche and still spend years collecting and never be lacking for new additions. The field is truly vast.

Military challenge coin displays

These custom challenge coins can be displayed in a formal setting or more informally. There are companies that make fine wooden display frames and shadow boxes. Many collectors prefer to mix these challenge coins into a setting with other military memorabilia like uniforms, letters, insignia patches, medallions or scale models. There is no wrong way to collect or display them. For anyone seeking a new hobby that combines history with variety and affordability - military challenge coins may fill the bill.


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