As you add to your collection of military artifacts, are you including coins among the pieces? Weapons and documents are certainly important parts of any collection, but military coins can add great value, as well. Military coins are also known as challenge coins, and are believed to have a tradition going back thousands of years. These coins have no currency value, but are issued within commands to enhance morale and as a form of recognition. Depending on the coin’s backstory and rarity, some of them are now quite valuable among collectors. These coins are made of base metals and many are stamped with the distinctive logos and designs of particular military units, in addition to those of a military organization as a whole.
Because it is not uncommon for challenge coin holders to exchange coins among units, and for these coins to be given to civilians as tokens, there are many opportunities for diligent military collectors to find rare, discontinued, and inspirational challenge coins out there. Because of the ease in which challenge coins circulate among the general public and non-military collectors, it should be noted that the same approaches and resources used to collect other military artifacts may not always apply in tracking down these coins. Indeed, a collector is advised to take the approach of a general coin collector in addition to using other leads in looking for these coins.
And just what coins should a collector be looking for? That of course depends on the collection type itself. Is the collector looking for a specific period in history? Is the collector looking for a coin that is valuable because of its rarity or significance? Or is the collector looking for a coin that is a remembrance of a military action that inspired others? Such coins can certainly be found by determined collectors, and below are a few that they should be looking for.
1. WWI Army Intelligence Bronze Challenge Coin
A military officer narrowly escaped being shot by a French firing squad convinced that he was a German spy by producing this coin. Shortly thereafter, the American military adopted the challenge coin as form of identification.
2. 17th Infantry Regiment Challenge Coin
Although challenge coins supposedly were not widely used until the Korean and Vietnam War eras, famous WWII colonel William “Buffalo Bill” Quinn had coins issued for his unit in 1950 and 1951.
3. Civil War Era “Token” Coins
A series of coins issued between 1861-1865 for Union military and civilian morale purposes, these coins do not mention specific units, but bear logos like “Army and Navy”, “Our Army”, etc. These coins also depict Columbia (a popular artist’s euphemism for the U.S.) both wearing a “Liberty Cap” and bare headed.
4. 61st “Bulldog” Fighting Squadron Challenge Coin
As this elite Air Force squadron (first squadron to have more than 100 victories in the European theater) was disbanded as a fighting unit after World War II, its challenge coins are the rarest ones mentioned here, and thus quite valuable.
5. 509th Radio Research Group Vietnam Challenge Coin
This cryptically named unit set up a sophisticated network in the jungles of Vietnam to intercept Vietcong radio transmissions. Its distinctive tiger and lightning bolt symbols mark the start of the “modern era” of the military challenge coin.