Though contemporary design is on the rise in Washington, as in other parts of the country, there is apparently an equal growth of interest in real, as opposed to reproduction, antiques. One reason for the renewed interest in antiques is that the economic crunch is easing. On the other hand, people remember vividly the recent recession and its matching inflation, and they seem to be looking for the "sure thing" - the investment object that keeps going up with inflation, the tried and true antique whose value has held over the years.

The biggest antique event in Washington is always the Washington Antiques Show and Sale, to be held this year Jan. 7-11 at the Shoreham-Americana Hotel. The other big New Year's show nearby is the East Side House Settlement Winter Antiques Show, which opens Jan. 21 in New York City, together with the Third Annual World Antiques and Fine Arts Market Conference, co-sponsored by Antique Monthly.

Every year, an increasing number of people attend the Washington show, and spend more money. This year, the two big social events, the preview and the opening night, have already closed lists with an attendance of 500 for each. Last year, the show raised $58,000 for the Thrift Shop Chairites and had an attendance of 10,000, 25 per cent up from the year before. The Thrift Shop Charities take no percentage from sales, but charge a rental fee for booths, $3 admission to the show and tickets to the events.

Among the important antiques to be on sale this year will be a pair of Paul Revere andirons, priced at $6,500 and offered by Baldemar-Jacobsen of Cold Harbour, N.Y. Other new dealers this year include Ares Antiques of New York, who sell European jewelery; Brimfield Antiques of Massachusetts, specializing in 18-century American country furniture; Raymond B. Knight of Locust Valley, N.Y., whose specialty is 17th-century mahogany English furniture; and Ruth Troiani of Pound Ridge, N.Y., who sells glass and porcelain.

In case everybody is too bemused by the whole subject, the Antique Show has scheduled (Jan. 9) Thomas E. Norton, Sotheby Parke Bernet senior vice president and director, to lecture on "Antiques: A Fake or a Find," and (Jan. 10) William Voss Elder III, Baltimore Museum of Art decorative arts curator, who will talk about 18th-century Maryland, "Its Architecture, Arts and Ariscrats, with a focus on Annapolis." This year the show has Annapolis as the theme for its handsome catalog, and furniture from 18th-century Annapolis, with emphasis on the cabinet-work of John Shaw, will be on display. Tickets for the lectures and brunch are $15; and lectures only are $5.

From 10 a.m. until noon there will be a series of apparisers available: porcelain on Friday, prints and paintings on Saturday, silver on Monday and jewelry on Tuesday.

Information is available from Mrs. Roberts DeGraff, 2875 Woodlawn Dr. NW, 667-5378.

Gray Boone, editor of Antique Monthly magazine and The Grey Letter, an antique business in the United States at $3 billion annually. Boone predicts that in 1976, $110 million worth of antiques will be either imported or exported by American antique dealers.

Sotheby Parke Bernet reports a 1975-1976 total of $70 million for their New York art and antiques auction sales. And the whole business is supposed to be up when another English auction firm, Christie's, come to this country in the new year.

William Stahl, head of SPB's American Decorative Arts Department in New York, reports that "prices for American paintings and many fine antiques are on the biggest ride up in years, according to results of major fall auctions at Sotheby." Stahl says the American buyers are a new group - not just the Eastern Establishment, which has always supported fine early American furniture, but new Midwestern collectors from around Cleveland and Milwaukee.

The American Heritage auction held at the end of November brought a record total of $1,302,885. Contrbution to this the most was a rare a Queen Anne inlaid block-front secretary-bookcase from Rhone Island, circla 1745. It went for $65,000 to an American collector. Other prime pieces included a Chester County slant front desk, $27,000 (almost four times its pre-sale estimate) and a Queen Anne carved cherrywood flat-top highboy from Rhomne Island, 1740-50, which brought $19,000, almost twice its estimate. Lafayette's sword, presented to the general by Congress in 1779, was auctioned for $145,000 in the same sale. Sotheby says this is the highest price ever paid for a sword. The sword was consigned by a Lafayette direct descendant, Count Rene de CHambrun.

At another SPB auction last month, toys and dolls from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Archibald Stiles brought $86,980, showingfthe great interest in this rapidly rising category of collecting. CAPTION: Picture, A Queen Anne chair from Glenn C. Randall in Alexandria, a carved, inlaid; Picture 2, Queen Anne secretary that sold for $65,000 at Sotheby Parke Bernet; Picture 3, an oil portrait of Chief Justice John Marshall; Picture 4, from Kenneth and Stephen Snow in Newbury port, Mass; Lafayette's gold sword; Picture 5, from Sotheby's; and a brass wax jack from William Blair in Bethesda, Photo at far left by Craig Herndon - The Washington Post; above right photo by Linda Wheeler - The Washington Post; Picture 6, A Chippendale pie-crust tripod table from William Blair in Bethesda, By Linda Wheeler - The Washington Post