In the case of William B. Saxbe, this town's most famous citizen, it may be that in the end to "the loser" went the spoils.

Saxbe, who as a disillusioned one-term U.S. senator (1968-1974) was fond of calling himself the loser "because I'm the one they sent to Washington," held a two-day garage sale over the weekend of memorabilia collected during a lifetime as politico, world traveler and friend of the great and near great.

By Saturday night. Saxbe - Ohio's former Senator, Richard Nixon's Attorney General and Gerald Ford's ambassador to India - appeared to be several thousand dollars richer, thanks to admirers, the curious, past political supporters and, perhaps, some future political supporters.

Hundreds of them (the chief of police at one point said he expected 5,000) came from all over the state and even some neighboring ones to grab up, among other items:

A $400 bed of nails, given to a "hard-assed boss," said Saxbe's wife, Dolly, by embassy aide O. T. Berkman in New Delhi;

A $10 brick from the U.S. Capitol, rescued by then-Sen. Saxbe when it was blown out of the Senate men's room by the 1971 bombing.

A $20 Presidential seal ("I've lost that much in a crap game," commented one participant) encased in a plastic star bearing the etched signature of Richard M. Nixon "with appreciation."

A $1 photograph of the Saxbes with South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond's infant daughter and Thurmond's handwritten notation - "Thought you might like to have this."

In addition, there were carved teak screens (priced at $200 and $350 each); two 3-inch-thick teak table tops ($250 each); an assortment of rings, including Saxbe's own $600 star ruby and $200 white and blue sapphires; 100-year-old Russian samovar ($350); a selection of oriental rugs (totaling $10,000) and between 2,500-3,000 other items.

None of them, said Saxbe, represented gifts valued over $50 given him by foreign governments in any of his previous official capacities. As senator, he governments in any of his previous official capacities. As senator, he said, he received a crewel bedspread during one visit to India. The President of India once gave him a framed picture and there had been some carved boxes - "the Indians give a lot of carved boxs" - "but all the time I was gone (February 1975 to December 1976) you couldn't accept a gift for more than $50."

Informed yesterday of Saxbe's remark, Even S. Dobelle, who as U.S. Chief of Protocol oversees the State Department's gifts section said: "I assume that must be valid because we have no record of his ever recording any gift during his career in public office."

By Saturday night almost everything with price tags that the Saxbes, their friends and relatives had spent days sorting, stacking, hanging, draping, piling and stuffing in several outbildings and around the grounds, had been carried off.

"Even the trash," said a jubilant Dolly Saxbe.

Saxbe's star ruby remained unsold, "but he put it out only for effect," said Dolly. And several rugs were left over "but we have bids on them."

The Saxbes decided to clean house several weeks ago because of a remodeling project on their 158-year-old house. Sitting back from Rte. 29 on the 12-acre estate they call Jubarock Farm, the partially-gutted house looked to some passersby as if it had been ravaged by fire. Indeed, one disconsolate-looking bargain-hunter was overheard by Dolly Saxbe telling a friend that "the Saxbes really need to sell this stuff. They had a terrible fire."

To some in this farm community of 1,900 where Saxbe grew up and maintained roots throughout his political success, the sale was the biggest event since he was elected senator in 1967.

Police Chief Wayne E. Moore equated it in drawing power to the day Ohio Grain's Mechanicsburg plant blew up, killing one and injuring another. "Cars came from all over the state," said Moore, the town's onefull-time police officer.

Mechanicsburg returned to the national spotlight when the Saxbes place an advertisement about their sale in a Columbus newspaper. When wire service stories further spread the word, queries started pouring in from across the country.

Some people enclosed money, asking to be sent "anything" as a memento. Others were more specific, requesting, for instance, one of the more than 50 hats (out of his collection of some 100).

Rep. Elford A. Cederberg (R-Mich.) wrote to chide Saxbe:

"What a hell of a way to add to your fortune."

Chief Moore, who went to grammar school with Saxbe, said the former Ohio senator looked horrified when told to expect 5,000 bargain-hunters (later crowd estimates indicated about half that number showed up).

"But I think Bill ate it up and secretly liked the idea," said Moore. "He's really a ham, you know."

So it was that on Friday morning, the sale's opening day, as the first 200 waited outside his gate, Saxbe stood ready for them, resplendent in his white, custom-made bush suit and jaunty wide-brimmed straw hat.

For collectors of Saxbe plainspeak, it was a good day:

"What do I call you? Your Excellecny?" asked one woman all but overcome at the sight of him.

"Your Precious," cracked Saxbe, dispensing into a nearby bush a particulary well-aimed chaw of Mail Pouch chewing tobacco.

Some Saxbe supporters in the crowd saw the sale as a visible reminder to Ohloans that the 61-year-old ex-senator isn't out to pasture yet. But Saxbe denied any interest in becoming governor of Ohio next year or is seeking any political office.

"I don't want to go back into national politics," he said, "and being governor in a state like Ohio is an untenable job. There's no money to do the things you should do, so you're caught in between groups, trying to do a juggling act."

In law practice now with his younger son, Charles "Rocky," 31, Saxbe raises dairy cattle on his 400-acre farm and hopes to build export business.

He maintains contacts with former Senate cronies and others with whom he and Mrs. Sxabe socialized while living in Washington. And in keeping up with the news, he finds the Korean influence probe of "casual" interest because he knew Tongsun Park "socially, but I never had any business dealings with him."

Saxbe said Park "never approached me for anything and the only time he was in my office was when he brought a cabinet minister, the attorney general of Korea, to meet me." Saxbe said he was Attorney General at the time.

There were no Korean mementos on sale, though Saxbe joked at one point that he had a photograph of Tongsun Park with his arm around Dolly Saxbe. "What'll you give me for that?"

Saxbe's sister, Betty Sparks, was cashier and chief bookkeeper throughout the sale, scolding him on one occasion that their mother would die if he sold a particular object. "She's already dead," said Saxbe.

Russell Bundy of Columus, a dealer in used bakery equipment, may have been the sale's biggest spender, writing out a check for more than $2,000 to cover an assortment of items, including the bed of nails.

Saxbe never quite got around the trying it on for size, though he always intended to - but not Dolly Saxbe. "Too thin-skinned," she said.

Down the road in Mechanicsburg proper, the town's two restaurants enjoyed a business boomlet, and from the standpoint of the economy, town clerk Mary Culp, who issued the Saxbes the mandatory $1 sale permit, said, "we're glad to have the sale."

In some eyes, it eclipsed in interest even the annual Champaign County Fair, then in progress at nearby Urbana, as bargain hunters and Saxbe groupies pawed, picked and in a couple of instances argued over the flotsam of power.

"Everybody wants a souvenir that touched the hand that touched the hand," said Mechanicsburg neighbor Roger Mitchell, manning a table of books.

"It shows you," said Mary Culp, "what a dollar can do."