Every now and then the mythbusting web sites have an article with a numismatic connection. In an item published this week on Snopes.com, someone asks,
I've often heard about bars that offer free drinks in exchange for Alcoholics Anonymous X-days sober medallions.
The site's editors conclude this tale is merely a LEGEND with no basis in fact (as if something that crazy could ever be true).
Addiction is not something that is fought once; it is a foe that needs be wrestled with constantly. It is for this reason that many who have successfully availed themselves of the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program choose to carry in their pockets small tokens that serve to constantly remind them of the importance of their sobriety, lest a fleeting instance of complacency prompt them to forget the nature of the battle they must wage each and every day.
The most popular of such mementos is the sobriety medallion or chip. One of the earliest AA members carried such a token (Clarence H. Snyder, founder of AA group #3 in Cleveland in 1939), but the practice of bestowing sobriety chips is attributed to the Oxford Group in Elmira, New York, in 1947.
While each group within AA operates by its own rules, it has become somewhat the norm for a member's home group to present a successful newcomer with a medallion on the first anniversary of his last drink. Said disc will likely be engraved with the date of the member's sobriety and either a generic statement (e.g., "The day my
new life began") or the member's favorite of the standard AA slogans, one that he particularly drew strength from in his first year.
Additionally, many groups make it their practice to hand out poker chips or marbles at the one-week, one-, three-, six- and nine-month milestones. These less formal tokens of recognition, while of no appreciable monetary value themselves, are treasured nonetheless because they are peer group recognitions of the struggle the individual is engaged in.
For someone fighting day by day to maintain his newfound sobriety in the face of all life has to throw at him, they serve as tangible reminders that others (particularly those who have also weathered these storms) have noted the newcomer's progress and are cheering him on. They also serve as tangible reminders of his promises to himself.
The belief that either AA sobriety anniversary medallions or their ersatz mid-year counterparts are redeemable for free booze at local bars has been around for decades. (I first encountered it in the early 1980s when it was told as an "everybody knows" tale among folks in the program, but it is likely far older than that).
There are a number of sellers of these medals (or "medallions" as some call them) on the Internet. There seems to be a huge range of varieties. I didn't come across one of the "X-days sober" type. Has anyone ever written a book or catalog about these pieces?