Whenever anyone asks me for suggestions on several books to start a good numismatic library, I always recommend the standard work by William H. Sheldon, Early American Cents, 1949, mostly available in its 1958 second edition retitled Penny Whimsy. After reading the introduction, in particular, you will fall in love with early coppers! Sheldon said this:
Old copper, like beauty, appears to possess a certain intrinsic quality or charm which for many people is irresistible. An experienced dealer in American numismatic materials recently wrote as follows: “Sooner or later, if a collector stays at the business long enough, it is three to one his interest in all the other series will flag and he will focus his attention on the early cents.”
Gold, silver, and even bronze appear to be very much the same wherever you see them. Coins made of these metals become old money and interesting, like the stuff seen in museums, but copper seems to possess an almost living warmth and a personality not encountered in any other metal. The big cent is something more than old money. Look at a handful of the cents dated before 1815, when they contained relatively pure copper. You see rich shades of green, red, brown, yellow, and even deep ebony; together with blending of these not elsewhere matched in nature save perhaps in autumn leaves. If the light is good (direct sunlight is preferable) you will possibly observe that no two of the coins are of quite the same color.
Indeed, there is something very special about copper. This has been the metal of choice for most commemorative and other medals issued in the American series over a long period of years. Copper coins are unusual in that examples in this metal can be very attractive, even if in lower grades. By the end of the 1950s, Dr. Charles Ruby, a California numismatist, had accumulated dozens of 1793 cents, mostly duplicates, in grades averaging Good to Fine. Arranged in cardboard album sheets these were fascinating to behold. In dynamic contrast. R.E. (“Ted”) Naftzger, Jr. sought one each of the cent varieties from 1793 onward in the highest possible grade, a plan followed later by Daniel Holmes.
The early dates of large copper cents 1793 to 1814 have always had a special appeal to numismatists. Those of 1793, the first year of issue, have been the focal point for several studies over the years, an early example being the photograph plate of 1793 cents compiled by Joseph N.T. Levick and published in the American Journal of Numismatics in 1869. Each is from hand-engraved dies, typically with the head of Miss Liberty on the obverse and the wreath elements on the reverse from punches impressed into the dies, with stars and letters individually entered as well. As a result, early copper cents are like snowflakes — no two are alike.