WHITE HOUSE - A special White House coin commemorating the planned summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is ringing hollow for some but already is deemed a desirable item for collectors.
The colorful coin features images of a hirsute-headed Trump face to face with "Supreme Leader" Kim (with an apparent double chin). At the top of the coin, the planned June 12 summit in Singapore is referenced as "Peace Talks."
The other side is more standard, containing the seal of the president and an image of Air Force One flying over the White House.
"I urge the White House to take Kim off the coin," said the top Democrat in the U.S. Senate.
I urge the White House to take Kim off 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 is a brutal dictator and something like the Peace House would be much more appropriate. https://t.co/ZHUKVqW7yN— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) May 22, 2018
Conservative pundit Bill Kristol deemed the commemorative coin in the spirit of "dime-store authoritarianism — at once farcical and creepy."
This White House Military Office coin (prematurely) commemorating the planned Trump-Kim Jong Un meeting captures the Trump presidency%27s spirit of dime-store authoritarianism--at once farcical and creepy, belligerently un-dignified and un-republican. And, yes, deeply un-American. pic.twitter.com/r7SZKxujli— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) May 22, 2018
Administration officials are downplaying any significance of the coin, of which 250 were minted by a private company.
"This is not something that the White House has anything to do with," Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Tuesday, saying the coin was the idea exclusively of "career military officials" assigned to the White House Communications Agency.
"Since 2003, White House Communications Agency (WHCA) members have ordered a limited number of commercially designed and manufactured souvenir travel coins for purchase," White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah said in an earlier statement emailed to VOA News. "These coins are designed, manufactured and made by an American coin manufacturer. These souvenir coins are only ordered after a trip has been publicly announced. The White House did not have any input into the design and manufacture of the coin."
Challenge coins, as they are also known, are a popular item of exchange among military personnel and first responders. Sometimes they are given to unit members to enhance morale or to commemorate special occasions.
The origins of such coins go back centuries, but during the 20th century it became a tradition for members of the military to challenge each other to show such medallions. If the one challenged did not have the coin, that person had to buy a drink for the challenger. But if the one challenged did display his or her coin, then the challenger had to pay for the beverage.
Many of the coins are not cheap. Manufacturers contacted by VOA News on Tuesday estimated that the elaborate Trump-Kim coin would be sold by a maker for about $6 per coin plus an initial die charge of about $100 per side.
Trump and Kim are set to meet in Singapore on June 12 and there has been surprise expressed that the commemorative coins for the summit are already circulating, especially amid speculation the historic meeting might not occur after North Korea rebuffed U.S. insistence that it unilaterally denuclearize.
Trump told reporters on Tuesday there was a "substantial chance" the summit might not occur as scheduled.
"Obviously these take some time to manufacture and if they are to be distributed on the trip or launched concurrent with the trip, they would have to be manufactured in advance," Rick McCallum of D&R Military Specialties, a maker of challenge coins in Arizona, told VOA News.
Whether or not the summit takes place, the White House Communications Agency's coin for the event is likely to become a valuable historical token.