Do you have a challenge coin and wonder whether it is worth anything?
Are you looking to add challenge coins to your collection?
Challenge coins might seem like a modern invention, but in fact, they have a long and varied history. While these coins are not legal currency, obtaining valuable tokens can add to your collection’s richness and variety.
Factors such as the coin’s rarity, condition, and historical significance contribute to its intrinsic value. There are numerous challenge coins; knowing which ones are worth collecting can be quite a task.
We wrote this guide to take the fuss out and help you quickly identify the most valuable challenge coins. So, let’s get started!
A Brief History of Challenge Coins
The origin of challenge coins is mired in word-of-mouth stories and folklore.
According to one historical account, challenge coins were introduced during the Roman Empire, which awarded soldiers for their achievements with a bonus coin in addition to their typical wages.
Challenge coins are also said to have been used during the Renaissance to commemorate Very Important People (VIPs) and royalty. The coins would be exchanged as gifts or souvenirs.
During the religious wars in France in the 17th century, Huguenot Protestants wore challenge coins to recognize each other and avoid prosecution by state spies.
The challenge coin became a popular identification token in the United States during the First and Second world wars. Legend has it that a soldier captured by the Germans later escaped and found himself in the hands of French soldiers. The American military officer used a challenge coin won around his neck to identify himself, avoiding execution.
Challenge coins were also used as rewards and identification during the Korean War and Vietnam Wars. Today, these coins are issued by presidents, organizations, law enforcement departments, and other military branches.
Rare coins produced in small quantities are the most valuable. But historically significant challenge coins can also fetch a premium, such as presidential coins produced for a specific historical event or those signed by or commemorating a politician.
Military challenge coins are particularly popular among collectors because our country values servicemen and women for their contribution to protecting our sovereignty and national security.
So what is the most valuable challenge coin? Let’s find out below.
Most Valuable Challenge Coin Worth Money
Some of the most sought-after and valuable coins are associated with intelligence agencies. The fascination with these coins might be attributed to the secrecy and mystery around these agencies.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Career Commendation Medal is an example of a popular yet rare challenge coin.
As you can tell by the name, this beautiful token was awarded to CIA employees who demonstrated exemplary service.
The coin is made of bronze and is, therefore, quite heavy. It measures 3 inches in diameter and ¼ inches thick.
On one side, the coin features a bold eagle at the center, encompassing the phrase CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY and CAREER COMMENDATION MEDAL.
On the back side, you will find a dainty laurel surrounded by the country’s name. At the center, you will notice the words AWARDED TO and a small box to engrave the recipient’s name.
One such example came up for sale at an online auction, with the seller asking for $2,500.
This coin was issued by the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVRGRU) to recognize the recipient’s heroic acts. DEVGRU’s activities remain highly secretive, which adds to the coin’s mystery and popularity among collectors.
The coin spots a dark background with a portrait of a centurion helmet from the Roman empire—the words PRESENTED BY TASK FORCE COMMANDER.
On the flip side is an image of a shield and sword underlined by the words THE DEED IS ALL…NOT THE GLORY, a steadfast and long-standing motto of the Seal Team 6.
This coin sold for $3,250 on eBay in September 2021.
Another DEVGRU challenge coin features beautiful details of an American eagle swooping downward, holding a pistol, anchor and trident in its talons on one side.
Number 1 appears in the background, while the words NSW TACTICAL DEVELOPMENT AND EVALUATION SQUADRON ONE appear at the top.
On the other side is a portrait of a stallion’s head underlined by a crisscrossed rake and spear.
Issued in July 2023, this token has an asking price of $2,750.
4. Area 51 U.S. Air Force Challenge Coin
Area 51 is a secret military installation in southern Nevada manned by the U.S. Air Force. This site is equally mired in controversy and mystery, with stories of aliens, alien testing, and Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) associated with the secretive site.
So when a coin linked to Area 51 came up for auction, it was sure to draw much attention. On one side, the coin features the phrase, “There is a bad moon on the rise.” The other side showcases the Latin phrase Fortitudo et preparation, which translates into “strength and preparation.” You will also notice Facta non verba, translating into “Deeds not words.”
This particular coin, believed to have been issued by the Air Force for great achievement, features a dramatic portrait of three dragons with an inverted triangle laid over a star with four tips. This token fetched $1,750.
5. CBRN and WMD Terrorism Groups CIA Token
This is yet another challenge token issued by the CIA. As you can tell, this revered and secretive agency has issued many different types of challenge coins recognizing individual and team accomplishments.
This particular one was inspired by the works of the United Nations’ chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and weapons of mass destruction counter-terrorism groups for their exemplary work in helping the CIA extend its critical mission of keeping America safe.
The token features the Latin phrase “Mortifirae obstemus scientiae,” meaning “Let’s resist the deadly science.” On the flip side is the secret service’s shield and eagle logo.
The CIA challenge coin also came up for sale in 2022, selling for a neat $1,200 as it was in pretty good condition.
The 17th Infantry Regiment is one of the most valuable challenge coins. William “Buffalo Bill” Quinn, the commander of the Infantry Regiment, commissioned the creation of a coin with which he could identify members of his regiment during the Korean War. Team members used the name Buffalo Bill on radio calls to refer to their commander, Quinn.
This challenge token showcases a buffalo and the year 1812 on the obverse, representing the first time the 17th Infantry Regiment went into action in a war.
On the other side are the dates 1950-1952 at the top, representing the regiment spent in the Korea war. A unit crest logo and the emblem, ”17th INF’ appears on the other side, underlined by the word KOREA.
Special Forces Operational Detachment Coin
The Delta Force, officially known as the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment, is a secretive group tasked with protecting the country’s security.
The elite body awards its members with challenge coins to celebrate their achievements and, most importantly, to identify them as belonging to the Force.
Given the secretive and highly exclusive nature of the organization, it is no surprise that only a few challenge tokens are available in circulation.
These coins feature a sword plus a lighting triangle on the obverse. There is also the Delta Force logo on the front of the coin. On the reverse, the design varies slightly depending on the recipient’s title. The words America’s Finest and Oppressors Beware also appear on the reverse.
Examples can fetch between $11000 and 3120 and have been sold for slightly more, at about $4,000.
Many of the challenge coins the Naval Air Warfare issues symbolize violence, defense and other hard-hitting themes.
So, it was quite a pleasant surprise when Naval Air Force issued a quirky Mickey Mouse challenge coin to celebrate Disney World and its accomplishments and encourage the Force members to visit Walt Disney World.
The coin, issued by the Naval Air Force Base in Orlando in 2018, is worth $1,126.
Few challenge coins convey a message as aggressive as the one issued by the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
Created in the shape of a skull, it symbolizes the often dangerous job of Army and Marine Corps members. At the top around the skull are the words “Trample the weak, Hurdle the dead.”
If the Army and Marine Corps hold a particularly special spot for you, this coin might be worth adding to your collection. The last time such a piece came up for auction was in 2018, and it sold for $1050.
Medal of Honor coins are quite common, and the military has a long tradition of issuing its members with these tokens.
There are many different designs for a military medal of honor. Generally, these coins are also easy to identify, but you must be aware of the many counterfeits.
Honor challenge coins are issued to members of the Army who have achieved a great fete or a notable act of heroism.
One of the most expensive medals of honor coins sold on eBay for $2030 in 2019.
10. Checkpoint Charlie Berlin Challenge Coin
Nicknamed Checkpoint Charlie by Western Allies during the Cold War, this crossing point was the most popular Berlin Wall pass-way from East Berlin to West Berlin.
Sgt. Michael Rafferty served as the non-commissioned officer in charge of Checkpoint Charlie. During this time, he witnessed the wrath of Germans who sought to break down the wall using harmers.
He was awarded a Checkpoint Charlie challenge coin for his role, which espouses one of history’s most momentous events.
There is only one known example of this coin, and it sold for a neat $2,750 at an online auction. The coin has a signed photograph of Rafferty manning the checkpoint and an accompanying newspaper article.
U.S. presidents are known to issue challenge coins to members of the public who’ve made tremendous achievements in all areas of their lives. It is obviously a great honor to receive such a token, making these coins highly sought after among collectors.
A POTUS commendation challenge coin came up for auction in 2010, with the seller asking for a whopping $19,999.
According to the seller, he received the token after a special meeting in 2006 with President George W. Bush. In addition to the challenge, the seller says he also received a personal honor as recognition for a commendable achievement.
President Trump was the first U.S. President to meet with the leader of North Korea. The two met at the 2018 Singapore Summit, discussing nuclear weapons and even shaking hands.
Despite the controversy, the White House issues a challenge coin to commemorate the historic yet controversial event. When one of these showed up at an auction on eBay, it sold for an impressive $1,199.
13. Jocko and Seal Team 3’s Battle of Ramadi
The Battle of Ramadi was one of the bloodiest during the Iraq War in which the Iraqi forces, the U.S. and its allies fought against insurgents. During the eight-month battle, many lives were lost on both sides, including U.S. Navy SEAL Michael Monsoor.
Monsoor died following a grenade attack in which he was trying to save others’ lives. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his acts of heroism.
Monsoor was part of SEAL Team 3 led by commander John Willink aka Jocko. A challenge coin was created commemorating the team’s exemplary efforts during such a bloody war.
The coin commemorating Jocko and his team at the Battle of Ramadi sells on eBay for $3,750.
Collecting challenge coins can be very rewarding financially and in terms of nurturing a fun hobby. As you can see, there are many types of these token coins. But the most valuable challenge coins are typically those associated with the Armed Forces, intelligence services, and politicians, including presidents.