The Secret Handshake

You’re back…from battle…from BFE. You performed beyond expectations. Your superior notices. He reaches out to give you a congratulatory handshake. Your callused hands connect…you feel metal chill your palm. You‘ve been “coined.”

The giver chooses whatever method he prefers to deliver a coin, but typically the “secret handshake” is the vehicle. Considered the true method of “coining,” it’s smooth, dignified, and clandestine. Speculation and mystery shine on the origins of the challenge coin tradition, including the secret handshake. No one knows where it really began.

One story points to the Brits in the late 1800s when they went to war in South Africa. Many of the ranks were not British military but rather contracted civilians. And non-military were exempt from receiving military service awards for acts of valor. To award their civilian soldiers, officers often slipped them sixpence – by way of the furtive handshake.

Wherever it began, the hand shake today is a respected and dignified coin delivery – but only if it’s clean. Rare though it may be, shame comes upon the offender who drops the coin during the exchange. But during a slick, successful coining, bystanders may not realize they’re witnessing a coining. It’s often a secret between the two connecting palms.

In fact, so rare is this military unicorn, scant photographic proof exists. However, a Reuter’s photograph hit pay dirt and accolades while on assignment in the sands of Afghanistan. There he caught two shots of then-Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates coining soldiers during his farewell.

Slightly easier to catch in his early first term, Obama bungled a hand-off to a Marine before climbing the steps of Marine One. Of course this was caught on camera. He is said to have refined his technique over the course of his presidency.

Next time you see military or heads-of-state shaking hands, you may be seeing a coining in action.