Challenge Coin Collecting Hobby — Things You Need to Know

Among collectors, the trend of challenge coin collecting is rising fast. It was once popular only in the military,  police, and other non-civilian circles — and their relatives or friends. However, the recent years have seen a hike in the interest of challenge coins collection. If you are jumping on the wagon too, here are some of the things you should know before you start.

Traditionally, military challenge coins were used to identify a person as being a service member of a given military group. From there, the tradition branched out into other non-military service groups as well, like the police or aviation or even in boy scouts. These medallions were also used as honors given to personnel for exemplary service. 

Nowadays, the tradition has all but gone out from most circles due the ease of counterfeiting, but the value remains and indeed, increases. The coins are available in many antique shops and auctions, and some of them are as valuable as thousands of dollars apiece. Indeed, some have only a few pieces left, and the owners of those are dear to let them go for any price. 

However, there are plenty that are available for just a few pennies and you can start your collection with these military challenge coins. No need to be rich to become a challenge coin collector!

Value of a Challenge Coin

The sentimental value of a challenge coin, of course, cannot be measured. But when one is put up for sale, there are some specific points that are covered to assess the value of a challenge coin. The various factors determining the realistic value of a coin are as follows:

  • Rarity — how uncommon is the coin? Are there many copies available in the world, or are there only a few left?
  • Age — how ancient is the military challenge coin? The older, the more valuable.
  • Significance — was the coin attached to some very popular and distinct company or group? Was the coin present in pivotal incidents? What’s interesting about the coin’s history?
  • Condition — is the coin in good condition? Is it damaged, defaced, discolored? Mint condition goods are, of course, much more lucrative.
  • Design — how pretty is the coin? The design intricacies bring a certain aesthetic and artistic value to the coin. Especially so if the design means something special.
  • Sentimental value — this is rather decided out of the market. A coin which is a family heirloom may be deeply coveted by the family, who would not want to let it go unless they had a very good reason.

Brief Background History of Challenge Coins

It is believed that challenge coins originated in ancient Rome. The roman soldiers were given specially minted coins as rewards for exceptional performance in the field. They were meant to give them access to certain favors which the general, undecorated soldiers were not privy to. They were encouraged not to spend the coin for the monetary value of it.

The most common use of military challenge coins happened during the First World War In most cases, wealthy officer’s minted bronze medallions stamped with their squadron’s or brigade’s insignia. A legend says that a fighter ace pilot was captured in Germany and all his personal belongings were confiscated — all except the special challenge coin he had signifying his valor and achievements. The soldiers respected this sign and let him keep the medallion.

Challenge coins are still given in the military today, though the practice has become more symbolic than significant. In 2011, while touring military bases in Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave the soldiers many such coins.