It's commonly suggested that collectors buy the finest quality they can afford. A practical alternative for the collector who wants to remain actively in the hunt is to compromise a bit and acquire examples of coins that are somewhat superior to what is normally available in the marketplace. It may be true that you never go wrong buying the best. I've also found you can't go too far astray when buying what is at least a little better than what most others have in their collection. My experience has been that it's possible to have lots of fun when collecting coins that are slightly nicer than the "AEC".
To intelligently participate in this segment of the hobby one must first determine what the average encountered condition of any particular coin might be. I've found doing this research can be as enjoyable as tracking down the "target" coins. Further satisfaction can be gained from knowing the vast majority of collectors never seriously pursue this type of investigation and thus often overlook wonderful coins that can be had at modest prices.
I often suggest to collectors that they look for coins that offer an obviously positive combination of quality and price. Because this practice has worked to my advantage during the 35 years I've spent as a professional numismatist it seems worth passing along. Countless times, I've been able to acquire coins that immediately drew the attention of my customers because these pieces were still attractively priced while being somewhat nicer than what most other vendors had to offer.
No doubt there is great satisfaction to be gained by owning the finest known example of a particular coin, but how does the cost of such an item compare to the value of the second or perhaps twentieth best example? Is the finest coin far superior to all others or only slightly nicer than what can be obtained at a fraction of the price?
If learning more about "AEC" appeals to you, I'd suggest you confine your initial investigation to a few coins and certainly no more than a single series. Doing this research can be tremendous fun, but it won't be easy. The objective is to learn about what is really hiding out there in the numismatic woods. To find out it may be necessary to attend coin shows, review dealer price lists and advertisements, visit Internet venues and ask lots of questions. If you are diligent and tenacious the day will come when you will acquire a fairly priced yet simply wonderful coin and every bit of your effort will be rewarded.