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The Fascinating History of the Presidential Challenge Coin

By AK, 21 February 2020


Are you a collector? We all love hunting for those rare items that no one else has got. Maybe you're into stamps like Britain's King George V, rare antiques or first editions of famous books.

But there's one collector's item that ranks above them all. It's something you'll probably want to get your hands on and that is a presidential challenge coin.

Here's everything you'll ever need to know about a presidential challenge coin and how you can go about getting your hands on one.

1What are Presidential Challenge Coins?

Are you wondering what is a challenge coin? It's a specially minted coin given out on special occasions or at important ceremonies.

Presidential challenge coins are special coins given out by the President of the United States to mark special occasions or significant achievements.

In the U.S, They began life over 100 years ago as coins issued by the military to their soldiers to mark successful campaigns or historic events. There are now challenge coins issued by other non-military organizations including public services and now Presidents.

In recent times everyone from Linux users to Star Wars cosplayers have issued their own challenge coins.

The concept of giving out coins as a reward for military service or accomplishments dates to Ancient Roman times. A solider of a legion could be singled out for outstanding service that day and gifted a bonus coin for his achievements.

2The Vietnam War

During the Vietnam War coins began to be minted regularly to ensure soldiers were rewarded.

This was also to help combat universal condemnation and a drop in morale in the U.S army during the 1960s and 70s due to the highly publicized campaigns against the War after the exposure of the My Lai Massacre in 1968.

Anti-war sentiment was also on the rise due to the counter culture or hippie movement of the 1960s that perceived foreign wars as merely a way of financing the so-called military-industrial complex.

Challenge coins were supposed to restore pride amongst soldiers in what they were doing.

What are Presidential Challenge Coins?

Image Source: i.redd.it

3What do Challenge Coins Look Like?


Challenge coins are 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter. They are slightly bigger than the 50 cent coin which is around 1.20 inches in diameter and much bigger than the nickel which has a diameter of around 0.835 inches.

Unlike standard coins, they come in all kinds of different shapes, they don't just have to be round. It's possible for challenge coins to be pentagons, hexagons or even dog tag shaped. The shape is down to the person tasked with creating them.

The president himself or herself might have some input in designing it.

4The First Presidential Challenge Coin: Bill Clinton

President Bill Clinton (1993 - 2001) was the first president to have a Presidential coin issued and since then all of his successors have issued one as well.

Dick Cheney, President Geroge W.Bush's number two became the first Vice President to issue a presidential challenge coin during his tenure.

5Different Types of Presidential Challenge Coin

There are different types of Presidential Challenge coin. Some are minted to mark specific events such as the Inaugration or a state visit of a foreign power. But the most sought after presidential challenge coin is the one that can't be bought or claimed by attending an event like an inauguration.

These are special coins that can only be received by shaking hands with the President in a secret handshake.

How many coins are minted and who they are given to is a matter for the President and Vice President. How they give them out is a mark of their priorities during their term of office.


6Presidential Priorities


President George W.Bush (2001 - 2009) gave his coins to soldiers injured in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. President Obama (2009 - 2017) gave his coins out largely to soldiers who served on Air Force One.

President Trump has left his own unique mark on the coin, redesigning it to include his personal signature and the words 'Make American Great Again' surrounding the bald eagle. In his words, they are 'thicker, wider and more golden than ever before!'

He had a coin minted with his face turned towards that of North Korean Supreme Leader, Kim Jung Un to promote his summit with the dictator in Hanoi to try and bring about peace in the region.

7The Handshake

It is said that when receiving the challenge coins the presidents initiate a secret handshake. The recipient is not handed the coin but generally receives it during the handshake.

While this handshake isn't compulsory - and President Trump is known to dislike shaking hands with people due to the germs that are spread - it adds a sense of mystery and mystique to the process of handing out presidential challenge coins.

What do Challenge Coins Look Like?

Image Source: www.powwownow.co.uk

8Where to Get Challenge Coins?

You can buy challenger coins on the White House's official website but you are unlikely to get a good deal or to find any of the rare coins you are looking for.

If you want to get good deals and add to your collection then you are best to look at specialist collector stores or to ask around. It is worth befriending people in the military or hanging around in those circles to see what is available for trade.

9The Presidential Challenge Coin is the Ultimate Collector's Item


Collecting stamps or rare books can be an interesting hobby and something to display in your house but a presidential challenge coin offers you something more.

It gives you the chance to connect with history in ways that few collectors' items can. Imagine knowing that you hold in your hands something that presidents have held in theirs.

Each coin tells a different story of the people who have touched hands with the president and how that situation came about. From war veterans who got to meet the President of the day after coming back from a campaign to those who bore witness to historic events. The presidential challenge coin evokes man kinds place in history.

If you are interested in reading more about the presidential challenge coin then be sure to check out the rest of our site.

The First Presidential Challenge Coin: Bill Clinton

Image Source: amazon.com


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