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What are the Challenge Coins rules? Learn here how the tradition of collecting Challenge Coins started and the etiquette that you must follow if you collect.

Your military platoon or friends might collect challenge coins, but do you know how they started?

While challenge coins have become a popular gift and collectible for a myriad of occasions, they actually have a very unique history.

In addition to their unique history, there is also a set of challenge coins rules that govern their collection. So, if you’re going to collect them for fun or to honor your service, you should know about their proud heritage.

In this article, we’ll go over the history of the challenge coin. We’ll also go over some of the rules of the etiquette so you don’t commit a challenge coin faux pas.

Where Did Challenge Coins Originate? The Myth of the Coin

“How did this tradition get started? I tell you,” Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof asks the audience before pausing to state, “I don’t know.”

Much like the traditions Tevye discusses in the famous musical, no one really knows how challenge coins began. But, there are many different theories that have made their way around the Internet. While no one knows which one is correct, there is likely some truth in all of them.

Historians know that challenge coins in some iteration existed in ancient armies. Greek and Roman soldiers carried similar items to commemorate battles. Additionally, they also know that fans of gladiator matches traded and purchased coins with the likeness of their favorite gladiators.

The most popular myth of the challenge coin inception remains that of one during World War I.

The Challenge Coin of World War I

A popular story is that of a World War I serviceman who volunteered for the army early on, as many young men did. A wealthy lieutenant, seeing war as an adventure, wanted to give everyone in his unit something to remember their time together by. So, he had coins minted for each serviceman.

That same lieutenant wore his challenge coin around his neck. Some state as a necklace, others in a small leather pouch.

After his plane was shot down in Germany, he was lucky enough to survive. However, he had every one of his items take from him, except that challenge coin.

He escaped from the clutches of the Germans and posed as a civilian Frenchman. His lack of knowledge of French and his American accident were dead giveaways that he wasn’t who he said he was.

As such, the French thought he was an enemy officer and were ready to execute him. He showed them his challenge coin, and since one of the French officers recognized the insignia on it, they decided not to execute him.

It has been stated that ever since members of the military have worn challenge coins to ensure that they are never mistaken for the enemy.

The Korean War

Another myth that surrounds the challenge coin is one that took place during the Korean War. This is another challenge coin creation story.

Colonel “Buffalo Bill” Quinn of the 17th infantry minted challenge coins for all of his men. One side of the coin had a buffalo on it, an obvious nod to Buffalo Bill. The other side had the infantry’s insignia on it. The men wore them around their necks.

However, there is no heroic story attached that saves anyone from death at the last minute due to the challenge coins from the 17th infantry.

Post-World War II

Another challenge coin inception story takes place in Germany, just after World War II.

The tradition started after Americans in the military stationed there adopted a native tradition of doing “pfenning checks.” At the time, a pfenning was the equivalent of a penny, the lowest coin minted in the country. The tradition entailed men drinking at a bar. When it was time to pay the tab, they conducted a “pfenning check.” If you didn’t have a pfenning, you were stuck paying the tab.

This evolved to the challenge coin. If someone wanted to challenge someone else, they would slam down their challenge coin on the bar. If their opponent didn’t have their challenge coin, they would have to pay for both drinks.

Challenge Coins Rules

Today, Custom Challenge Coins are made for a variety of reasons. People may make them for military service, but they can also be given out for almost any occasion.

They’re now popular gifts for weddings or other big life cycle events. They’re also given out to members of clubs, fraternities or sororities or just to commemorate a good time.

There aren’t a plethora of rules surrounding challenge coins, as each organization may create their own. But one rule that has stuck is the secret handshake. Most challenge coins are passed from one person to another through these secret handshakes, and the coin isn’t meant to be seen by an outsider.

This is especially true in the military or other clubs like fraternities and sororities that have secrets only members can know.

Challenge Coins as Gifts

In recent years, challenge coins rules have waned due to the fact that they have become popular as gifts for almost any occasion.

As such, there isn’t a need for secrecy, especially if the coin is being given away as an honor or to congratulate someone for an event. In those cases, the person giving the gift and the person receiving it will want to display it to everyone.