People collect Large Cents in all sorts of ways. Some collect by date, some by variety, some by die state, and many, many collect only one year for one reason or another. I have met people who collect only Proof Large Cents, only 1831, N-31 Large Cents, only 1855 N-9 by die state (this is the knob on the ear variety), only 1796, and etc.
Large Cents are divided into three large groups:
Early Dates –1793-1814
All are made of copper, and all were made at Philadelphia.
Other groupings by type include the following:
LIBERTY CAP 1793-1796
DRAPED BUST 1796-1807
CLASSIC HEAD 1808-1814 (Turban Head)
BRAIDED HAIR 1840-1857 (these last two are also known as Coronet Head)
None were minted in 1814 due to the War of 1812 blockade.
Large Cents are classified (or attributed) by Sheldon numbers for the years 1793-1814 (#’sl-295). The years 1816-1857 are attributed by Newcomb numbers, which start with #1 for each date year.
Most Large Cent enthusiasts are members of Early American Coppers, a club dedicated to the collecting of copper and the continuing knowledge acquisition about copper coins. EAC has certain kind of special, tough grading for copper coins. Coins are graded on Sharpness, Surface characteristics, and Color; all these factors enter into a Net Grade. Both sides are usually graded separately.
Most Large Cent enthusiasts sooner or later become die variety collectors and eventually die state specialists. Large Cent collectors place a high premium on die-breaks and rim cuds. These factors make a Large Cent even more collectible and valuable.
Randall Hoard: The Randall Hoard found in 1869 in Georgia under an old railway station is responsible for many of the nicer grade coins of some dates that we have today. The originally found keg of coins probably contained 14,000 Large Cents. Randall, who came to own these Large Cents, had sold about 12,000 of the original coins before his death.
Nicer Large Cents of the following dates were probably from the Randall Hoard.
Nichols Hoard: These Large Cents were all property of the Nichols family and were dispersed to collectors about 1863. They were all of the dates 1796 and 1797. 1000 coins had been brought home by a Mr. Benjamin Goodhue (a member of the Continental Congress) to his daughters from the mint in 1797. They were mint-state coins from the first Bouton planchet shipment. These coins were preserved by descendants of the Goodhue family in the Salem, MA area. They reached numismatists about 1863 when David Nichols began selling them to coin dealers.
Many coins were taken back to Britain as souvenirs after the Revolution, so overseas sources often have good examples of early US coins.