top of page

A Little Enlightenment(?) and Origin story #2

Okay, I’m back and in this installment, I’m going to talk a little shop. As promised in my first post I’m going to attempt to shine a little light on the world of making challenge coins.

The first thing I'll explain is "Die Fees". So, what’s a die and why do they require a separate fee? To answer this you have to understand how challenge coins (and other things like lapel pins) are actually made:

Most challenge coins are die struck. Striking a coin refers to pressing an image into the blank metal disc, or planchet, and is a term descended from the days when the dies were struck with hammers to deform the metal into the image of the dies.

The process today begins with the creation of a steel die for each side of the coin. The planchet, usually an alloy of iron or zinc material depending on the design and 3MM thick is stamped using the two dies to create an impression in each side.

It is customary to include the cost of making these custom tools in the initial order placed for the coin. This is done this way since if any additional copies of coin that may need to be produced will use the die(s) already created.

It is my practice to pass the cost directly to the client without markup. These are one-time charges and as long as a die is reused again in a reasonable amount of time, say every three years or so, there will never any additional die fees charged to use it.

Hope that clears up dies and die fees.

Here’s another thing you’re going to need to understand when discussing the design of a challenge coin: Soft and hard enameling.

Here's the difference between the two:

Soft Enamel - When creating a soft enamel item, the enamel is laid or painted into the recessed areas and put through ovens to bake the enamel hard. The enamel is only added once in this process which means when dry, the enamel clings to the edges and recessed below the metal die line (that stops the enamels from mixing). This creates a dimensional look, meaning the paint is at a lower level than the metal borders surrounding each color. If you rub your thumb over soft enamel you will feel the metal ridges.

Hard Enamel - For hard enamel, not only is the enamel added over several times raising the enamel higher, it is heated at a very high temperature to harden and cure the enamel. It is then polished smooth, so it can be at the same level as the metal die lines. If you rub your thumb over a hard enamel item, it will feel smooth and you will not feel any metal borders/ridges.

I’ll leave you with Origin story #2. Again, my thanks and acknowledgement of wonderful article by Katie Lange

Here’s another popular story told by Air Force Historical Research Agency archivist Barry Spink.

(Excerpted from an article by Katie Lange, Defense Media Activity)

Spink said he’d been told in the 1990s that the tradition started in Vietnam, when an Army infantry-run bar tried to keep non-infantrymen away by forcing “outsiders” to buy drinks for the whole bar if they couldn’t prove they had been in combat. The “proof” started with enemy bullets, then got a little out of control with grenades, rockets and unexploded ordnance. So, a coin-sized item emblazoned with the unit’s insignia became the accepted form of proof.

This tradition – now known as a coin check – continues today, hence it being called a “challenge” coin.

I don’t know if this one is any more or less believable than #1, but it does have a much more reasonable explanation for why they are called challenge coins...

Till next time,


46 views0 comments


bottom of page