Challenge coins today come in all shape and sizes. Depending on who you talk to you will find as many opinions as to what is a challenge coin as coins themselves. The most prevalent and longest running disagreement as to what can be considered a genuine challenge coin lies between the collectors who originally received their coins in the military and the those folks who have come a little later to the game. The first group will tell you that “a REAL” challenge coin is round, made of brass and 1.5” in diameter. The second group prefers larger coins (1.75” – 2.0”) and they'll take in many different shapes.
The most popular size among my clients is 1.75”. This size makes up around three quarters of the coins we make today. The remainder is made up of 2.0” and larger coins. I have not been asked to make a 1.5” coin in over 2 years, but in speaking with other providers and my supplier I can confirm that many of that size being are made.
The largest challenge coin we have produced to date is pictured above. It is over 3.0” tall and just slightly less wide. At its thickest point it is over one half inch (14mm) and less than one quarter inch (6mm) at the thinnest! The standard thickness of most challenge coins is right around one eighth inch (3mm-4mm) This one is twice that at the thinnest point. And as for weight it comes in at over half a pound! When asked, those that have seen it in person do not think it’s a coin at all. The two most prevalent descriptions are paper weight/ desk ornament and weapon (as in “if you throw this at somebody you could really hurt them…”)
So, the debate goes on. The purists cling to the 1.5” circle, the market trends indicate many buyers and collectors are readily accepting different shapes sizes with 1.75” and 2.0” being the top choices and the cutting edge is happily making whatever tickles their fancy. I believe there is a place for all of these variations.
But if asked to state my opinion. I will have to agree with a very good client of mine, who has purchased several different coins from me and has been collecting for many years. When asked what he thought of the MRAP coin pictured above said this:
“Mark, that is an interesting and well struck piece, but I can’t call it a coin. As far as I'm concerned a coin has to be able to be carried in your pocket and not pull your pants down.”
Here’s the third and final origin theory presented in the excellent article by Katie Lange This is from an article called “Coining a Tradition” that was printed in a 1994 edition of Soldiers Magazine:
“A member of the 11th Special Forces Group took old coins, had them over stamped with a different emblem, then presented them to unit members, according to Roxanne Merritt, curator of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Museum at Fort Bragg, N.C. A former commander of the 10th SFG picked up on the idea, becoming the first to mint a unit coin for the U.S. military unit. The 10th group remained the only Army unit with its own coin until the mid-1980s, Merritt said, when ‘an explosion took place, and everybody started minting coins.’”
This one certainly has the ring of truth to it, I would need to fact check the 10 SFG information before I buy it as gospel though.
Now you've heard the three most repeated of the many origin stories I've heard. I'm sure there are others out there I haven't heard. But these three seem the most likely to be at least based in fact. With this in mind consider the following request:
Dear Reader, if you know of another origin tale that differs from these three please share it with us. Or better still, if you can verify having seen or have proof of coins created during WWI, WWII or the Korean Conflict let us know. Coins that can be attributed to these earlier times would invalidate the stories that have them originating during Vietnam and after.
Till next time,