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Media Makes Big Deal out of North Korea Summit Challenge Coin

Trump Kim Jong Un Challenge Coin Controversy

By CoinWeek News Staff ….

On Monday, May 21, news media outlets in the United States noticed a curious knickknack available at the White House Gift Shop. The story went viral thanks to a couple of tweets from journalists and talk about the souvenir spread around the world.

The item in question? A challenge coin that appeared to come from the White House.

More precisely, the medal was issued by the White House Communications Agency (WHCA), a subset of the Defense Information Systems Agency and a branch of the U.S. Army responsible for maintaining the telecommunications abilities of the president as he travels. Otherwise known as a “trip coin”, the piece was manufactured to celebrate President Trump’s upcoming summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. The agency has made similar coins in the past to commemorate other presidential trips and meetings.

Certain aspects of this particular coin, however, might strike the viewer as unusual.


On one side, a blue-and-white colored version of the presidential airplane known as Air Force One (not to scale) is seen flying over the northern facade of the White House. Above the plane is the Seal of the President of the United States. A globe, recognizable by lines of latitude and longitude, fills the background. Around the central design is a ring of dark navy blue, within which are several items in relief. The inscription VISIT OF THE PRESIDENT runs clockwise along the top, while a ribbon or banner with the name DONALD J. TRUMP is found at the bottom. Between each inscription on both sides are a number of stars. The uncolored areas are a golden brass color.

On the other side, the central motif has bust-like portraits of President Trump and Kim Jong-Un facing each other (Trump is on the left, leaning slightly into Kim). Behind each man is a portion of their respective flag, colored appropriately and with a jagged line down the middle. A white-colored ring encircles the main design; inscribed in relief are the phrases PRESIDENT DONALD J. TRUMP and SUPREME LEADER KIM JONG-UN. At the top and separated from the two titles by inwardly pointing sprigs of olive is the Korean (Hangul) inscription 평화회담 (pyeonghwa hoedam), which translates to “Peace Summit”. At the bottom, also marked off by olive sprigs, is the year 2018.

A red ring encircles both the white ring and the central motif. Within the red ring, reading clockwise from the lower left, are the inscriptions UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PEACE TALKS, and DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF KOREA, all in relief. Stars in relief are located between each phrase.

This side appears slightly golder in photographs – especially the two leaders. The rims of each side are “scalloped”, heightwise.

Only 250 were made.

The Coin Becomes News

The story then started with a tweet by NBC’s Peter Alexander on Monday morning showing pictures of both sides of the challenge coin:

Peter Alexander Trump Challenge Coin Tweet

Alexander’s tweet was followed by one by CNN’s Jim Acosta:

Jim Acosta Trump Challenge Coin Tweet

In the second tweet, Acosta makes note of the fact that the coin refers to Kim Jong-Un as “Supreme Leader”, a title that strikes some in social media as unusually complimentary–indeed, the very presence of Kim Jong-Un’s portrait on a “coin” produced by any arm of the United States Government is by itself controversial. But as the website Talking Points Memo points out, President Obama used the term “Supreme Leader” in official documents several times when referring to Iran’s Ayatollah Khamanei.

Although, while “Supreme Leader” is one of Khamenei’s official titles in his home country, it is not one of Kim’s in North Korea.

Acosta also incorrectly attributes the production of the challenge coin to the White House Military Office, an agency similar to the WHCA but more general in its functions.

In the first tweet, Alexander refers to the fact that the coin was released before the scheduled June 12 date of the summit in Singapore. Some in the press interpreted this “early” release of a souvenir commemorating the peace talks as premature celebration, and that it could harm the nation’s diplomatic efforts if the administration were now too invested in one particular outcome. Deputy Spokesman for the White House Raj Shah, in comments he made in reference to the story later in the day, stated that souvenir coins made by the WHCA “are only ordered after a trip has been publicly announced” – meaning the medals are intended to come out before the actual trip is made.

Addressing concerns that Trump created or commissioned the medal, Shah said that the White House “did not have any input into the design and manufacture of the coin.” He also emphasized that trip coins are a standing tradition, the WHCA having “ordered a limited number of commercially designed and manufactured souvenir travel coins for purchase” since 2003.

Nevertheless, the fact that Trump himself was not involved in the medal’s production was not enough for some in Congress. Senator Charles “Chuck” Schumer (D-NY) also released a statement, calling Kim a “brutal dictator” and suggesting that the Peace House, a building located in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea that sometimes serves as a location for talks between the adversaries, should replace Kim on the coin.

“Challenge coins are a time-honored tradition and certainly appropriate in this situation, but Kim Jong Un’s face has no place on this coin,” he said.

The response of the world press has run along similar lines, though many international outlets that have so far reported on the piece seem to make no distinction between a “challenge” coin produced by an indepedent group or individual and a “commemorative” coin produced by the United States Mint.


The 2018 North Korean Peace Talks trip coin was allegedly available for purchase by the general public from the White House Gift Shop, though it was not listed for sale when we visited the shop’s website at the time of writing.

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Coinweek is the top independent online media source for rare coin and currency news, with analysis and information contributed by leading experts across the numismatic spectrum.

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