They also can raise morale, giving members a sense of bond and belonging and camaraderie. While the actual origin of the tradition is the subject of debate the most common view is that it commenced with the United States Army Air Service.
During World War I air warfare was still a new phenomenon. Early pilots came from a mixture of backgrounds. According to legend, a wealthy lieutenant order small coins struck which he presented to his fellow squadron pilots as a memento of their service together.
One pilot had never owned anything like this and kept it in a leather pouch around his neck. During combat this pilot’s aircraft was grounded and he was captured by the German forces. His personal belongings were taken but the pouch escaped confiscation.
The pilot was able to escape and encountered a French patrol. However, the French were on guard against disguised German saboteurs. The pilot showed his coin, the only form of identification he had, which saved his life from mistaken execution.
After this episode it became a tradition for all members of the squadron to carry their coin at all times. To ensure compliance the pilots would challenge each other to produce the coin. If the coin could not be shown the challenged had to buy a round of drinks, otherwise the challenger was liable.
While other legends abound, the challenge coin is an honourable and recognised military device for improving morale and recognising service.
ThinkGeek has crafted its own for open source lovers worldwide. It comes in two forms with Linux/GNU and GNU/FSF variations.
The price is $US 19.99 with $3 donated from each sale to the Free Software Foundation. You won’t want to try and pass these off as real coins given the sizeable price difference but for the geek in your life this is certainly a unique gift.
Plus it might get them a few free drinks along the way.