A challenge coin is same as any old coin. Only it is much larger, and its value lies in the stories behind its production.
Traditional challenge coins are round. The diameters range from 1½ to 2 inches. The thickness is at 1/10 of an inch. Over the years, some of these coins have evolved into different shapes. There have been minted coins in polygonal shapes such as pentagons, octagons, triangles, squares, and rectangles. There are also some special shapes such as stars, arrowheads, shields, and dog tags.
Zinc alloy is the material of choice if the coin is meant for display. This material costs much less than the die-struck bronze type. Other materials used include brass, nickel, steel, iron, copper, and pewter.
Different types of finishes are used to make the surface designs of challenge coins stand out. Finishes vary, depending on the desired effect. Enamel is the most commonly used coin finish. It can be soft or hard enamel. A hard enamel finish produces a smooth and very shiny surface. The stamped design is filled with color so that everything is even. The recessed areas and the raised parts of the surface design are at the same level. After the colors are poured, the coin is baked, then polished to achieve a highly reflective surface. Soft enamel finish has a less polished surface compared to hard enamel. The recessed areas of the surface design are retained. This means that the resulting coin has raised and recessed areas. This is a more popular enamel type finish because it produces a textured surface. This effect gives more dimension and character to the coin. The uneven surface produces more interesting details and effect when light hits its. Electroplating is also done, using metals for a shinier and longer-lasting finish. Limited edition coins, such as commemorative and anniversary coins, are often plated in gold or silver.
Designs on challenge coins range from simple to elaborate. The most common design is an imprint of the organization’s logo or insignia. Sometimes, the coin itself is made to match the insignia. For example, if the unit’s emblem is a shield, the challenge coin is also in the shape of a shield. Simple designs would include an emblem at the center of the coin. The outer diameter would have words such as names. Mottos are also a common part of the design. A few coins have numbers engraved on the rims or edges, signifying that the batch of coins is limited and is only available to a few. The numbers add an extra-special feel to those who receive the coin, knowing that there are only a few of them who possess such coins.
Multidimensional designs are increasingly becoming more popular. Advance technologies allow for 3D designs. Challenge coins are no longer limited to flat patterns. More interesting patterns are now made available.
Customized coins are also available for the public. Over the years, these coins have found uses outside of the military. They are given out by companies to their employees for exemplary service and for company loyalty. Company anniversaries would often hand these out to recognize outstanding employees, as a token of gratitude and recognition for employee contribution to company growth and achievements. These coins also help promote solidarity and unity among the employees. It is a good way to promote pride in what they do and what the company stands for.
More and more companies are also realizing that these special coins work great for advertising. Take for example car companies: During auto shows, some car makers hand out specially minted coins with the company logo to potential clients. Truly, challenge coins have evolved throughout history.