Thanks for writing You are absolutely right on everything you have said.
It sounds like you are patient - excellent! It is definitely worth paying more for quality. Quality will always be in demand. Low quality will drop in price and not be in demand (imho) in the future.
Do keep in mind, "there are mid-grade collections and there are mid-grade collections". Which side of quality will you sit on? If you are discerning, and patient, for the same (or slightly more) money you can have a much better collection of original notes, compared to if you just rushed in and bought the next one available.. Look for the best you can find in mid grade. Maybe have a few less notes, but get the mid-grade Quality. Get EPQ when you can (or always!). If you are buying a set of notes, you want them all to have the similar handling and "look" as your original post identified. I like and respect and echo your approach. This can take effort and patience again, which you have.
Research lots and plan out your collection in advance, and the grades you will be happy with.. because when you make a mistake, or you change your mind about a note you own, you will usually take a loss on selling it due to selling fees. Broadly speaking, imho 95-99% of notes are not increasing in value at this time and haven't done for a decade. There is also a financial opportunity cost of holding notes. So buy what you are really happy to hold onto, which does truly teach the life lesson of patience. But the patience is worth the wait because you will get what you enjoy. If you have to sell, sometimes I have found ebay will give promotions where there is no FVF fee. When this coincides with the ebay bucks promotions, sometimes you can make a sale.
Thank you kindly for complimenting my notes, it means a lot! (I continue to work HARD in the real world to achieve these notes).
The other thing, I steer totally away from any notes that have been trimmed. Some early notes I bought had been trimmed and I had to sell them to move them on. So consider what qualities are important to you in a note before you go too far!
I am absolutely CERTAIN that a quality mid-grade, and here I am talking PMG30EPQ-35EPQ, set can be put together, that would rival (or eclipse) higher grade sets for respectability, provided you are careful and seek the EPQ notes when possible.
In addition to Heritage and eBay, the other online auction sites to follow are LynKnight and StacksBowers. There is another site called GreatCollections, but I don't follow that - unsure why. There seems to be a major auction you can buy from every 2-3 months. LynKnight and StacksBowers have current/upcoming auctions you can search online right NOW. Heritage have their next major auction in January but also have their weekly Tuesday auctions which are good. You will find some of the notes you desire in mid grades in the weekly auctions.
Searching the sold listings at Heritage is a great way to learn and see a wide range of the note you may want to own *** <-- do that often ***
Let me know how you go! If you start using the Registry, I will follow your progress over the next 10 years