For over 100 years, the challenge coin has been a symbol of esprit de corps among troops around the globe, tracing its roots back to World War I.
In the past, tokens have formally conveyed symbols of unit history or accomplishments. More recently, however, some artisans have produced more creative variants tied to military culture and humor.
One such minter is Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Spencer Garvin, owner of Sven Smash Designs and creator of a devil dog favorite, the crayon-eater coin.
“The best coin of all time has to be the crayon bottle opener,” Garvin told Military Times, noting the service’s crayon-eating trope.
Garvin’s crayon creation may be both a challenge coin and a fun way to crack open a cold one, but it is not simply some venture born out of boredom. Rather, Garvin was tasked with making a challenge coin, saw room to diversify the space and jumped at the chance.
“I was the commander’s driver in Marine Forces, Europe and Africa, in Stuttgart, Germany, and one of the tasks they had given me one day was that the commander needs a new coin,” he said.
Several rounds of edits with vendors ensued, but to no avail.
“After probably about 10 edits, [the commander] was like, ‘You know, we’re just gonna keep the one we have,’” Garvin said.
Garvin developed an idea for a separate coin on the side, however, and spent his own money to make it. He then sold his version among his unit.
“Everyone loved it,” he noted. “That was kind of the first coin that I designed.”
Now, years into the craft, Sven Smash has a catalog of coins inspired by everything from crayons to Pokemon, Harry Potter, and Funko Pop! designs — each with a military twist.
“The tradition of it has grown,” Garvin said, adding, “They’re [just] a little bit more eccentric than the classic challenge coin.”
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.