Origin of AA coins, chips, tokens or medallions
Where did the chips system originate and why were those specific time
periods chosen as times for awarding a chip?
Sometimes referred to as coins, medallions or tokens, the practice of giving
out a chip of some kind to mark a period of sobriety actually predates A.A.
Well before A.A. began, organizations such as temperance societies, gave
out medallions or coins to people who pledged to quit drinking or for marking
periods of sobriety. This common custom was taken up by individual A.A. groups
as each saw fit. Eventually private companies began to make "A.A." chips and
began selling them to groups. There is some history which points to a fellow
in Minneapolis as originating the modern AA chip in 1965,
see this link for more.
The AA history book Dr. Bob and the Good
Old Timers, records that Sister Ignatia in Akron (a nun who famously
helped early AA members), gave out medallions. From page 165: "Sister Ignatia
gave each of her newly released patients a Sacred Heart medallion, which she
asked them to return before they took the first drink. She would occasionally
give out St. Christopher medals as well..."
As for giving out chips at
certain anniversaries, that custom may have begun in
According to the AA.org website Nell Wing (Bill W.'s secretary) wrote this
about the origin of the chip system:
...The chip system
might have begun in Indianapolis...reference was made in a letter from
Doherty to the start of giving out "chips" and "tokens." This was in 1942.
I imagine this would be about right, because most of the early groups
started in 1940 and it would take about a couple of years to think of
anniversaries and marking any time of sobriety. I asked Bill about this
and his memory is that the system started in Indianapolis.
There is no codified system for giving out chips in A.A. What might be given
out, how it is done and for what lengths of sobriety varies from place to
place and even group to group. The periods of sobriety denoted by the chips
are determined by their manufacturer. In most cases the medallions given out
in A.A. are made by private companies which have no affiliation with A.A.
The term "chip" is often used because in many places it was or is common
to use inexpensive colored poker chips to mark periods of sobriety.