This area is an assortment of random tips that I have put together in order for you to maximize your enjoyment of collecting early copper coins. So, here goes:
1) In general, buy the BEST coins you can afford, and by best I recommend that you focus first on CONDITION and then on GRADE. For example, in the long-run, you will be much happier with a coin that is F12 net F12 CHOICE, than one that is VF20 net F12 AVERAGE. Both coins are F12, but the overall look and also the potential resale value on these two coins will be very different. When you display your collection, either to others or just to yourself, you will want the reaction to each coin to be "WOW" instead of "DARN"!
2) Only buy coins with problems in these two cases: 1) if the coin is so cheap that there is no possible way you could lose money; and 2) if the coin is so rare that you are just beside yourself to even have found that particular variety. And even if one or both of those two requirements are in place, I will still warn you that at some point you will be less than satisfied;
3) Buy the key coins first! With respect to half cents, that means the 1793, 1796, and 1802. With respect to large cents, that means the 1793, 1799, and 1804. These are only going to keep getting more expensive! If you are able to knock those out at the beginning, you will have the benefit of watching them continue to go up in value as you complete the rest of your collection;
4) Learn to spot the fake coins! This is the biggest pitfall in the world of early coppers, and as the Chinese get better and better at making fakes, there will be more and deeper pits to fall into. Educate yourself! Spend money on the books you need, look at tons of genuine coins, learn a few simple ways to identify the majority of fakes, and until you are an expert by your own right, find a dealer or mentor you trust that can guide you!
5) Have a GOAL for your collection! It is often a losing proposition to sell or upgrade coins that you have just purchased, so try not to make any mistakes at the beginning. If your passion is half cents, then focus on half cents! If you can afford to collect VF20's, then don't buy G5's or MS63's, either! Decide early on what coins you really like, and then develop a plan to make it happen. There are a ton of different ways to collect half cents and large cents, so find the one that fits you the best. Probably the hottest collection going right now are PCGS Registry Sets. I am a huge fan of the program, for several reasons. First, people are able to safely display their collections. Second, people are able to see how their collection compares to everybody else's. Third, coins in PCGS holders are going to be GENUINE. Fourth, coins in PCGS holders are the most actively traded and typically the easiest to sell because frankly a lot of buyers for early copper don't understand EAC-grading and don't care about it anyway. Fifth, PCGS has created several levels of Registry Sets, ranging from simple date sets to the full Cohen and Sheldon variety sets, so there are a variety of sets that you can attempt and even complete. But whether you prefer raw or certified, half cents or large cents, Goods or UNC's, the sooner you choose a course and stay with it, the better off you will be in the long run;
6) I mentioned that there are several ways to collect early coppers, and I wanted to give you some examples. I am going to use large cents for illustration purposes, so here goes:
Date Set: For large cents, this could be the early dates from 1793-1814; the middle dates from 1816-1839; the late dates from 1839-1857; or the entire set from 1793-1857;
Year Set: For large cents, the best example is the "Boyz of 1794," who collect all of the Sheldon varieties for a single date: 1794. There are 58 Sheldon's and almost a dozen NC's, so this is a challenging set. Other great example would be 1793's, which includes Sheldon 1- 16, or 1796's, which includes Sheldon S92 - S119;
Major Variety Set, typically based on Redbook varieties. For large cents, using the same year set example above, the major varieties for 1794 would be: Head of 1793; Head of 1794; Head of 1795; Starred Reverse; and No Fraction Bar. For 1796 Draped Busts, the Redbook varieties would be: Reverse of 1794; Reverse of 1795/1796; Reverse of 1797; and LIHERTY error. You can collect major varieties for some dates, all dates, or whatever combination of coins gives you the most enjoyment!
The Full Monty: complete Cohen or Sheldon sets. With respect to half cents, there are 99 generally-accepted Cohen varieties, and some of them are unique, so frankly this is a very tough set. However, it is very possible to achieve 90 of the 99 coins, and there is even a special club for those who have made that accomplishment. For large cents, there are 302 early date Sheldons from 1793-1814, and once again, there are some impossible coins in that group. However, you still get a lot of enjoyment out of tackling these two sets, even if you are not able to complete them. After all, the fun is in the running of the race and the thrill of the chase, and NOT in simply crossing the finish line!
I hope these tips have given you some examples of how you can put together an incredible collection of half cents or large cents. But the point is, make sure you have a specific GOAL and that you are not just randomly purchasing coins, and you will be much better off in the long run, both financially and also happily!