Challenge Coins Catalog (CH)

Catálogo de Monedas del Desafío


Below is a catalog or list of all known challenge coins which refer to Panama or the Canal Zone, or a location within Panama. I am sure I have missed some challenge coins and new ones are issued from time to time. So please me if you know of any challenge coin or variety which is not listed in this catalog.

Summary

Challenge coins are medals which refer to military units and their history and achievements. At this time, all the challenge coins in this catalog refer to American military units (as opposed to Panamanian units). Most of the Panama references on Challenge coins refer to participation by a unit in Operation Just Cause. Other Challenge coins refer to Panama or a Panama location in regards to training received or as their base of operation. The medals are usually between 38 mm (1½ inches) and 51 mm (2 inches) in diameter, and may be made of bronze, nickel or some other base metal. A number have color details.

How They are Earned

Currently, challenge coins are presented by unit commanding officers and non-commissioned officers to individuals who have demonstrated excellence while performing their duties. In the past, challenge coins were presented to individuals to denote affiliation with a specific military unit. Challenge coins are also designed to commemorate a specific event. Unlike other commemorative items, such as custom t-shirts or special grade boots, challenge coins tend to be a bit harder to come across.

The World War I Legend

The following story is told about the first challenge coin; whether it is true or not, I do not know:

During World War 1, American volunteers from all parts of the country filled the newly formed flying squadrons. Some were wealthy scions attending colleges such as Yale and Harvard who quit in mid-term to join the war. In one squadron, a wealthy lieutenant ordered medallions struck in solid bronze and presented them to his unit. One young pilot placed the medallion in a small leather pouch that he wore about his neck.

Shortly after acquiring the medallions, the pilots’ aircraft was severely damaged by ground fire. He was forced to land behind enemy lines and was immediately captured by a German patrol. In order to discourage his escape, the Germans took all of his personal identification except for the small leather pouch around his neck. In the meantime, he was taken to a small French town near the front. Taking advantage of a bombardment that night, he escaped. However, he was without personal identification.

He succeeded in avoiding German patrols by donning civilian attire and reached the front lines. With great difficulty, he crossed no-man's land. Eventually, he stumbled onto a French outpost. Unfortunately, saboteurs had plagued the French in the sector. They sometimes masqueraded as civilians and wore civilian clothes. Not recognizing the young pilot's American accent, the French thought him to be a saboteur and made ready to execute him. He had no identification to prove his allegiance, but he did have his leather pouch containing the medallion. He showed the medallion to his would-be executioners and one of his French captors recognized the squadron insignia on the medallion. They delayed his execution long enough for him to confirm his identity. Instead of shooting him they gave him a bottle of wine.

Back at his squadron, it became tradition to ensure that all members carried their medallion or coin at all times. This was accomplished through challenge in the following manner - a challenger would ask to see the medallion. If the challenged could not produce a medallion, they were required to buy a drink of choice for the member who challenged them. If the challenged member produced a medallion, then the challenging member was required to pay for the drink. This tradition continued on throughout the war and for many years after the war while surviving members of the squadron were still alive.

Reprinted from a Kelly AFB Dining Out Presentation

History of Challenge Coins

The following information was extracted from an article by Major Jeanne Fraser Brooks titled "Coining a Tradition" which appeared in Soldier's Magazine (August 1994 Volume 49, Number 8):

"In the U.S. military, the tradition goes back to the early 1960s. A member of the 11th Special Forces Group took old coins, had them overstamped 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 a 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." Originally, the coins, which bear the unit crest on the front and whatever design the unit wants on the back, were given out by commanders and sergeants major to recognize outstanding acts performed by soldiers in the course of duty. "They're a real morale booster," said Duvall, "and tell the soldier, 'you're a member of our unit' which builds unit cohesion. The soldiers carry their credit card, driver's license and unit coin - their wallets are permanently deformed."

Don Phillips, a former commander of the 20th SFG, designed a coin for his unit and presented it to his soldiers when he retired. "Another unit asked me to make a coin for them, and then another, so I went into business making them," said Phillips. To date, Phillips has made coins for "between 600 and 700 units." The tradition has spread to the other services and is even being adopted by paramilitary units like the U.S. Marshall's SWAT team, according to Phillips.

According to Phillips, World War II soldiers were given a coin when they mustered out of the service. But it wasn't until the Vietnam era that a "challenge-response" was added to the tradition of giving unit members a coin. The initial challenge was to prove membership in a particular unit by producing the unit coin. That was followed by the addition of the requirement to "buy a round" if a soldier didn't have the coin. "Buying a round isn't the only challenge these days," said Phillips. "Drinking is frowned on, so the challenge can be anything. If you don't have your coin, you get the detail."

In recent times, the challenge coins have become available to the general public (including collectors) through sales at the post gift shop and other venues.

Collecting Challenge Coins

Collecting all the challenge coins in this catalog would be quite difficult. Certain types are readily available on ebay and in online stores. Others however were made in small quantities by military unit commanders and awarded to their members on special occasions. The recipients of these scarce challenge coins most likely treasure them and would be reluctant to sell them.

Fake versus Real Challenge Coins

What is a "real" challenge coin versus a "fake" challenge coin? I have heard from different folks involved in the design, manufacture and distribution of challenge coins, and heard different opinions.

Per the stories about challenge coins above, "real" coins are awarded by commanders or ranking individuals in a military unit. Some are also minted by units to sell as a fundraiser. So one opinion is that if you did not receive your coin from the military unit minted on the coin, or from a person who obtained the coin from that organization, it's a good chance that it's a fake or over run, meaning someone minted extra coins with the sole intention of selling the coins on their own. With this view in mind, perhaps 10% of the coins on ebay are "real" and 90% are "fake". A graphic artist who designs challenge coins shared with me their opinion that:

"...the design of a challenge coin is intellectual property of the artist or the organization that commissioned the art. If the person selling the coin isn't the copyright holder, or doesn't have permission from the rightful owner to sell the coins, they are selling the coins illegally... There are exceptions to this of course. If someone is awarded a coin or purchases a coin from a legitimate source, they can sell the coin or do whatever they want with it. It's their coin. In my opinion, most of the coins on e-bay are bootleg coins and not just individuals selling off their collection."

Many of the challenge coins available on ebay can be purchased from distributors who appear to have as many challenge coins to sell as there are buyers to purchase them. So it appears that these challenge coins are "over runs", being manufactured in quantities far above the needs of the military units in question. A number of the challenge coins below fall in that category and can be fairly easily obtained for $8 to $12. Other distributors have only one or a very limited supply of challenge coins which they have purchased at Fort Bragg or another military base from the units who appear on the challenge coins. And some sales on ebay are by members of the organization themselves who are selling their personal property.

The following quote was attributed to a distributor of challenge coins, who was also a member of the military:

"...a large number of challenge coins are made in South Korea. There are a few shops around Seoul who sell odds and ends. That's how I get most of them... I can also get coins made here (in the United States)...relatively cheap in bulk..."

It is true that many challenge coins are manufactured in South Korea, where manufacturing expenses are lower. It is alleged that some unauthorized challenge coins are also manufactured in South Korea. An unauthorized challenge coin would be one that was not ordered by a high ranking individual from the military unit depicted on the challenge coin.

I have also been told by a distributor of challenge coins that most challenge coins you see on ebay are identical to the challenge coins in use by the military units. They therefore consider over 90% of the challenge coins for sale on ebay to be "real", on this basis.

Challenge coins which are authorized by a military unit and issued in quantities to supply only the needs of that unit can be distinguished as follows. They are seldom seen on ebay; when seen, some of the examples show signs of wear; and some examples have been engraved with people's names or names and numbers. Please send me if you have information on this topic. My advise is to decide what criteria you are going to use for including challenge coins in your collection, not pay a lot for challenge coins that you have doubts about, and to strive to be a knowledgeable buyer.

Pricing

Pricing is based on several factors, which ultimately are supply and demand. How many specimens are available and how many collectors want them. With the challenge coins, a number of pieces are readily available from online stores. Others can be only be obtained when a person decides to sell their collection or personal property. I will be providing one price for each piece, which will be the retail price I have seen at online stores, or what price the piece is getting in online auctions. Almost all the challenge coins are in mint condition. Used challenge coins may actually be worth more than the pieces in mint condition if they were used as the personal property of an individual in the military.

Numbering System

All the challenge coins have been designated with the letters "CH" and grouped by unit. Then within the group each coin variety is given a unique number. The number is based on the unit numbers as found on the challenge coin. For instance, the 1st Ranger Battalion coin is CH-1.01 and the 2nd Ranger Battalion coins are CH-2.01, CH-2.02, etc. Permission is hereby granted to anyone to use the numbers below in referring to these tokens, in print or electronic media, by calling them Plowman's CH-x.x at least once, or referencing www.coins-of-panama.com. However, I reserve the right to assign all new numbers. Please contact me when a new number is needed.


Click on the image or catalog number below to go to the full listing for that piece.

Challenge Coins Catalog
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Image # Description Rarity 2007 Catalog
Value
CH-4.01 Mine Warfare Readiness Group Four S $ 16.00
CH-7.01 7th Infantry Division Support Commander - No Dates S $ 20.00
CH-7.02 7th Infantry Division Support Commander - 1957-1993 S $ 19.00
CH-7.11 7th Infantry Just Cause Chaplin R $ 51.00
CH-7.21 7th Infantry Division - Colored C $ 10.00
CH-7.25 7th Infantry Division Small Name Plate R $ 35.00
CH-7.26 7th Infantry Division Large Name Plate R $ 35.00
CH-7.31 3er Batallon 7mo Grupo Fuerzas Especiales
Panama Fort Bragg Puerto Rico
C $ 8.00
CH-7.32 3er Batallon 7mo Grupo Fuerzas Especiales
Panama only Aluminum
S $ 20.00
CH-7.33 3er Batallon 7mo Grupo Fuerzas Especiales
Panama only Bronze
S $ 20.00
CH-7.34 3er Batallon 7mo Grupo Fuerzas Especiales
Panama only Brass
S $ 20.00
CH-7.37 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces, Charlie Company RR $ 55.00
CH-8.01 8th Special Forces Group C $ 10.00
CH-8.02 8th Special Forces Group - Green Background C $ 8.00
CH-8.11 Naval Special Warfare Unit 8 C $ 13.00
CH-8.21 2nd Battalion, 8th Field Artillery - Cannon C $ 10.00
CH-8.22 2nd Battalion, 8th Field Artillery - Cannon Colored C $ 10.00
CH-8.23 2nd Battalion, 8th Field Artillery - Modern Gun C $ 10.00
CH-9.01 9th Infantry Regiment C $ 10.00
CH-9.11 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment S $ 18.00
CH-9.21 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment C $ 10.00
CH-9.24 D Company, 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment R $ 15.00
CH-15.01 15th Engineer Company Combat Support Equipment R $ 30.00
CH-17.01 17th Infantry Regiment C $ 15.00
CH-23.01 23rd Infantry Division - Americal C $ 10.00
CH-23.02 23rd Infantry Division - Proudly Served C $ 10.00
CH-24.01 24th Communications Squadron C $ 12.00
CH-24.11 24th Wing Howard AFB Panama C $ 12.00
CH-24.21 24th Maintenance Squadron S $ 30.00
CH-24.31 24th Medical Group with Mascots S $ 30.00
CH-24.32 24th Medical Group Shields both Sides S $ 32.00
CH-24.41 24th Transportation Squadron R $ 60.00
CH-27.01 27th Infantry Wolfhounds S $ 20.00
CH-27.11 1st Battalion 27th Infantry Wolfhounds S $ 36.00
CH-56.01 56th Signal Battalion R $ 52.00
CH-61.01 61st Airlift Squadron S $ 20.00
CH-75.01 75th Ranger Regimental Headquarters C $ 10.00
CH-75.05 75th Rangers S $ 20.00
CH-75.11 1st Ranger Bn Bronze Lightning C $ 10.00
CH-75.12 1st Ranger Bn Red Lightning
Circle on Sun
C $ 10.00
CH-75.13 1st Ranger Bn Red Lightning
No Circle on Sun
C $ 10.00
CH-75.14 1st Ranger Battalion Flash Style S $ 20.00
CH-75.21 2nd Ranger Bn Bronze: No Iraq C $ 10.00
CH-75.22 2nd Ranger Bn Pewter: No Iraq C $ 10.00
CH-75.23 2nd Ranger Bn Small Eagle Plain C $ 10.00
CH-75.24 2nd Ranger Bn Small Eagle Colored C $ 10.00
CH-75.25 2nd Ranger Bn Bronze: With Iraq C $ 10.00
CH-75.26 2nd Ranger Bn Silver Color: With Iraq C $ 10.00
CH-75.31 3rd Ranger Battalion - No Somalia S $ 20.00
CH-75.32 3rd Ranger Battalion Plain C $ 12.00
CH-75.33 3rd Ranger Battalion Black Colored Reverse C $ 10.00
CH-75.34 3rd Ranger Battalion Multi-Colored
Two Silver Dots
C $ 10.00
CH-75.35 3rd Ranger Battalion Multi-Colored
One Silver Dot
C $ 10.00
CH-75.36 3rd Ranger Battalion Training Excellence C $ 10.00
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