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Disney challenge coins are real. Here’s the story behind them

Turns out that Disney challenge coins are, in fact, a real thing.
James Clark Avatar

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Nov. 23, 2020.

Challenge coins are an interesting military tradition. 

Some folks will visibly swell with pride as they present their collection of coins, which to the uninitiated look like gilded slammers from that ’90s era game Pogs. Standing before those neatly ordered defense industry discuses, all covered and aligned on a handmade display case, they’ll cheerfully remark how one time some four-star general or defense official at this one base palmed them a coin for doing something or other. Others will offer little bits of information, like military-grade Snapple Facts. They’ll say, “Hey, did you know that there’s a drinking game involving challenge coins?” And everyone else will say “Yes, we know.”

It’s not that I dislike challenge coins; they’re fine. It’s just that they’re everywhere and handed out for everything, often in lieu of a more meaningful reward, to the point that it sometimes feels like they’ve lost their meaning.

It’s with this jaded outlook that I first encountered challenge coins in one place where I never expected them to be, not in a million years — and I can honestly say that this is one coin I actually wish I had:

A Disney official confirmed to Task & Purpose that this Mickey Mouse/Punisher coin was not one of the company’s officially sanctioned challenge coins and was likely created by an employee. (Courtesy photo)

That’s right: The Walt Disney Company can now add “challenge coins” to a list that includes Marvel, Star Wars, and pretty much everything else that defined my childhood.

The badass-looking (albeit confusing) Mickey Mouse/Punisher skull challenge coin appears to have come from security personnel at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. A photo of the coin was provided to Task & Purpose by a reader who did not offer details on when the coin was given out.

At first, we were unsure if this was a one-off occurrence, like a few security guards who were vets decided to make a challenge coin for themselves, or if it was something the magical kingdom had officially sanctioned.

Turns out that Disney challenge coins are, in fact, a real thing:

One of Disney’s official challenge coins, this one was made for military veterans in 2019. (The Walt Disney Company)

“The Walt Disney Company has an enduring tradition of support for those who support in the military, as well as their families and veterans” and that extends to challenge coins, a spokesman for Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida told Task & Purpose.

“In our security departments and other areas where military veterans have come to work after their service, it’s natural that affinity, that cultural use of coins, came with them and all of the hallmarks of it: unit identity, organizational identity, pride in mission,  as well as the use of the coins as a sign of mutual respect and recognition,” said the spokesperson, adding that the coins are primarily created for employee recognition and are not available for purchase.

At any given time Disneyland and Disney World have three to four officially sanctioned coins, which are used in much the same way as they are in the military, Disney confirmed to Task & Purpose. The spokesman said that the Punisher/Mickey coin was not an official Disney challenge coin, but added that park personnel often make their own coins for internal use.

One of the many challenge coins that use Disney’s intellectual property and available for sale through auction sites. (eBay)

“There are many unofficial, but professional coins, which are designed and paid for by the cast members who created them,” the Disney spokesperson said, adding that all coins — official or otherwise — are supposed to go through review by Disney if they feature the company’s intellectual property.

Yet it’s hard to know for certain which coins are official, and which ones are not. After all, the internet is awash with these glittering little tokens, some of which feature Mickey dolled up like a minuteman, while others show just his silhouette emblazoned on body armor:

And while it’s unclear which category some of these coins fall into, Disney has once again managed to transform something tired and boring into something unexpected if a little hard to explain.

Update: This article has been updated with new information from The Walt Disney Company confirming that the Mickey/Punisher coin is not an official Disney challenge coin.

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