Home Fun Stuff Roll call Memory Lane Members Only! Donate Contact

Theta Sigma Tau Challenge Coin

A Table of Contents / FAQ

Why a challenge coin for Tau?

The idea of creating a challenge coin was suggested on the Alumni Exploder and a large number of active and alumni members took an interest. The idea of a token symbolizing membership and connection with other members (as well as a reason to scam drinks off of forgetful brethren) was very appealing.

Over the period of several weeks a coin design was generated by an informal committee formed of active members and alumni. Design ideas were suggested and voted upon until a final version was approved by all of those that were involved.

A little shopping around was done and an on-line business that specializes in the creation of custom coins and medallions was selected. Once they completed the design to the members' specifications (also done by vote) the coin was officially commissioned. Pete Lenz ('89) fronted the money to pay for the initial order of coins and at the same time he began taking orders from alumni and actives who were interested in having one (or more) coins.

Nearly 70 coins from the first order of 150 coins were designated as donor coins by our very generous alumni (and a couple of actives). The majority of these coins were used to ensure that every active member at the 2006 Spring Formal received a coin and that pledges since then have received a coin upon activation (a generous alumnus contributed several hundred dollars in 2010 to ensure that this tradition could continue). Several of the coins were designated to be gifted to the house's faculty advisors, past and present. Several others were designated to be incorporated into plaques commemorating those Taus that have passed away since the reformation of the house in 1976.

Coins will continue to be available through the Alumni Association until further notice.

What does the Theta Sigma Tau Challenge Coin look like?

The images below are the final art designed by the vendor for use in creating the dies used to stamp the coins. What you see is exactly what the coins look like. With the detail that the original images provide (they are too large to post here) one can see that the very tiny yin yang symbol at the top of the newer crest is intact and looks good.

Below are scans of a coin (in a hard plastic protective case with a black foam rubber surround) to give you a fair idea of what the coins look like. The detail is as good as in the artwork (above). The raised portions are mirror-like shiny surfaces while the lowered portions have a matte finish. The detail items, such as the yin yang on the reverse and the leaves on the laurel branches on both sides, are excellent. Click on either image to open a new window with a larger version of the image.

A written description:

  • Obverse: the crest of the house as it was first designed at the time of reformation in 1976, centered on the face of the coin. At the edge of the face, encircling the crest: "Theta Sigma Tau" on an unfurled scroll at the top; and the years "1910 1976 1980" on the bottom. These dates honor, in order, the academic years of the original formation of Theta Sigma Tau (1909 - 1910 school year), the year we reformed after Sigma Nu left (1976), and the year that we went co-ed (1979 - 1980).
  • Reverse: the current crest of the house, centered on the face of the coin. At the edge of this face, encircling the crest, would be the Five Virtues that are represented by the five stars found on BOTH crests. These are set equidistantly from each other and have a five pointed star between each:
    Equality * Liberty * Dignity * Loyalty * Fraternity

The coin is made of a metal that is silvery in appearance and will be 1.75" in diameter. There will not be a mint date on it... they will all be equal to each other, regardless of the date upon which they were minted... just as the membership are all considered to be equals regardless of age, gender, race, etc.

Who is eligible to have/obtain a coin?

With regard to who may voluntarily obtain a coin:

  • Any alumnus or alumna that wishes to purchase a coin (or more) may do so. They simply need to contact the Alumni Association. This includes coins intended as a donation to another alum or any of the people listed below.

Coins may be awarded by alumni to non-members that are affiliated with the house in some way. Only an alum may gift a challenge coin to a non-member. Non-members to whom coins may be gifted should be limited to:

  • Alumni of The Elms Club or theta Tau chapter of Sigma Nu
  • Social members
  • Honorary members
  • Friends of the House
  • House advisors
  • Other friendly or helpful (over the long-term) administration members
  • Children of members (aka "microTaus")

What are the rules and customs revolving around the coin?

Quite obviously, the rather elaborate rules noted in the History of Challenge Coins (below) detailing the origin of the challenge coin are a bit much. To date, the following guidelines have been suggested:

  • Only full alumni (those that were once active members) may purchase coins. They may purchase coins for themselves or to gift to non-members that they feel might appreciate the coin.
  • No decision has been made, yet, with regard to the purchase of a Tau challenge coin by an alumnus of the Zeta Tau chapter of Sigma Nu or by members of the pre-Sigma Nu incarnation of Theta Sigma Tau, Sanford House, or the Elms Club. The issue has not arisen, to date.
  • The coin should be treated with a reasonable amount of respect, but we're not going to establish guidelines about how to carry the coin (in a pocket, wallet, whatever).
  • Coins may be mounted onto a memorial plaque for an alum that has died. The plaque can be retained by the alum's widowed spouse or may be retained by the alumni association.
  • Any alum can initiate a coin check by producing their coin and clearly announcing their intent to initiate a coin check.
    • All actives and alumni present must, within 60 seconds, produce their own coin.
    • Any active or alum that cannot produce a coin must buy a round of drinks for those that were able to present their own coins. This could lead to multiple rounds if more than one active or alum could not present a coin.
    • The person issuing the challenge must buy a round of drinks for all of those that were able to produce a coin.
  • Social members, honoraries, and other non-member coin-holders may NOT initiate a coin-check nor may they participate in a coin-check.
    This is not intended to unfairly exclude these non-members but, because not ALL eligible non-members will have been gifted a coin, requiring ALL to participate would be unfair. Permitting eligible non-members to voluntarily participate could lead to abuse of the privilege, permitting less ethical eligible non-members to only participate when it serves their purpose.

How much does a coin cost?

The price is $15/coin. This price is lower than many challenge coins tend to run (usually upwards of $20) and will still permit the Alumni Association to bank a slight bit of cash (approx. $4/coin) which will be used to facilitate future orders of the Challenge Coin or other activities/expenses of the Alumni Association (like this website, for example).

Coins come in a soft, transparent plastic sleeve. For an additional $1, one can purchase a hard plastic case (pictured above) that will better protect the coin. The case is slightly oversized in diameter, but there is a foam spacer to ensure that the coin is held in position. This spacer can be white or black, at the choice of the purchaser. These cases can be purchased separately at a later date.

A small display stand (like an artist's easel) is available for another $1. It is designed to work with the hard plastic case and is made of the same type of material.

If one wishes additional protection, or to be able to display the coin in a nice setting, one can purchase a blue velvet or black leatherette display box designed to hold the hard plastic case noted above. Either box is $7.50, a price that includes the hard case.

To order a coin for yourself or to be donated to someone else:
Item Cost/unit
Theta Sigma Tau
Challenge Coin
Hard plastic
protective case
(white or black surround)
Plastic display
Blue velvet or
black leatherette
display box (includes hard plastic case)
•   •   •   •   •
Shipping To get an exact quote on shipping
cost of any combo, contact Plenz.

  1. Contact Plenz to tell him how many coins, cases, and boxes you wish to order for yourself and if you wish to order any as a donation to the house.
  2. Purchasers are asked to pay for the cost of their order plus shipping and Paypal fees (if any). Plenz will prepare your purchase for delivery before you have to pay so that he can give you the shipping cost.
  3. To pay you can either send a check or money order or use Paypal...
    • PREFERRED METHOD (apart from handing Plenz cash in person): Send a cheque or money order to...
      Peter Lenz
      118 S. Wilson St.
      Fredonia, WI 53021
    • Paypal (Plenz uses his work email for this one: "plenz@uwm.edu"
    • Contact Plenz to arrange something else.

All prices and charges are just a little more than the cost to the Alumni Association: we're not in this to make money. The small amount of profit will be used to defray the costs associated with maintaining the House and Alumni websites ($100/year for the server) and will also be used towards additional orders of these coins.

If you have questions, email Plenz and ask away.

So... what IS a challenge coin?

A Challenge Coin is a coin-shaped token that represents membership in a group or organization. The original concept of a Challenge coin is as follows (the veracity of this story may be questionable... some of the details sound a bit too contrived).

During World War I, a lieutenant from a wealthy family ordered medallions struck in solid bronze and presented them to his air squadron. One young pilot placed the medallion in a small leather pouch that he wore about his neck.

Some time after acquiring the medallion, the pilot's aircraft was severely damaged by enemy fire. He was forced to land behind enemy lines and was 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. Taking advantage of a bombardment that night, he escaped... but without personal identification.

He managed to avoid German patrols by dressing in civilian clothing and succeeded in reaching the front lines. He finally came upon a French outpost. Unfortunately, saboteurs had been plaguing the French in that area, sometimes masquerading as civilians. Because he had no identification and the French being unable to recognize the young pilot's American accent, they suspected him of being a saboteur. As the French discussed their options, the leading one being to shoot him as an enemy combatant, the airman showed his medallion to his French captors, one of whom 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 person 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.
(This material obtained and paraphrased from CoinForce.com. Similar stories appear on a variety of other websites.)

The website of the US Air Force Wire Dawgs lists the rules and traditions that surround their own challenge coin, these seem to be somewhat commonly held traditions:

Canons of the Wire Dawgs Challenge Coin
These are not Tau's rules, ours are listed above.
Once endowed with possession of the Coin, these rules and customs bind you. Not complying with these long standing customs or any deviance from these rules will bring great disgrace and loss of respect to one's self and may be grounds for revocation of all titles and privileges.
The Rules and Customs:
  • The Coin must never be defaced or purposely damaged in any way. (Cannot be drilled for a necklace, key chain, etc.)
  • The Coin shall always be carried on one's person. Carried on one's person is defined by in one's pocket, sock, shoe or other garment that is on one's body. It shall not be carried in one's wallet, purse, or European carryall.
  • Carrying one's Coin in the shower is a sign of great respect, but is not required.
  • Any member in good standing can initiate a Coin Check. The visible display of the Coin constitutes a Coin check. When a check occurs, all Coin holders will visibly present their Coin. Any Coin holder that cannot produce their Coin when checked is then required to buy a round of drinks for the Coin holding group. If all members produce their Coins the person who initiated the check must purchase the round of drinks.
  • The holder of the Coin shall announce to all present they are producing the Coin for public display (i.e. not a coin check). Any display of the Coin without a verifiable announcement will constitute a Coin Check.
  • If one drops the Coin, it also constitutes an immediate Coin check for all those present.
  • If a person is Coin checked and produces the wrong Coin (anything other than a Coin of the type produced to make the challenge), the bearer must immediately purchase a round of drinks.
  • If the Coin is ever lost or misplaced, that person is still open to be checked at any time.
  • No one should carry more than one Coin at a time.
  • No one should own more than one Coin, unless stock is properly displayed paying the highest level of respect to the Coin. Merely stockpiling the Coins is disrespectful and held in the lowest regard.
  • The Coin shall not be sold or bestowed upon non-members without the approval of three Senior members.
Drinks may be hard or soft or a mix of both. All Members who refrain from consuming hard drinks are by no means excluded from the age-old customs of the Coin and shall not be looked upon with disrespect.

The Challenge Coin concept moved out of military circles and was adopted by many kinds of organizations and clubs, including fraternities and sororities. Even Sigma Nu has this tradition, as a quick search of eBay will show the occasional Sigma Nu Challenge Coin up for auction.


Fun Stuff Roll Call Memory Lane Members Only Home
Challenge Coin
AA Officers
Family Trees
Our Creed

Site Map

©2007, 2022 Peter W. Lenz, All rights reserved.