SOME OF us are always missing the boat. When Tiffany lamps were $25, we didn't have $25. Now that they are $25,700, we don't have $25,700. We're the ones who gave away Aunt Nellie's Rookwood vases. And the blood relatives of those who bought Axminister carpets instead of Navaho rugs.

Believe it or not, boats are still sailing. There are artists and craftsman of today just as good, and in some cases better, than those whose works are now scarce and sky high. All it takes to be known as that great collector 30 years hence is an educated eye and, perhaps, the ability to see into the future.

This is as good a time as any to bring up the difference between arts and crafts anyway. Both are handmade. Both can be multiples, though a unique piece is more desirable.The standard difference is that a craft object works for a living while an artwork sits around all day just looking beautiful. Today, the practical difference seems to be that crafts cost under $1,000 and arts over.

Architect and author George Nelson, in a recent speech here, explained that if the maker is dead, the object is art. +A Greek terracotta vase, now ensconed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's expensive real estate, was just a Mason Jar when it was made. Now that the potter's dead, its art."

The reason for the penny philosophizing is Craft Art: A Washington Exposition, certainly the best survey of craftwork made in our area that has ever been - and perhaps ever will be - assembled, a year-long massive effort by Caroline Hecker. She has organized craft programs at Appalachiana and the Smithsonian Associates and thus pobably knows more about local craftspeople than anyone in town.

Many of the works in the show are Not For Sale, but works along the same vein can be commissiones. The show's catalog alone is an invaluable contribution. Every object, selected by the blue-ribbon boards of judges, is pictured and brief biographies - but unfortunately not the addresses - of the craftspeople are included. The catalogs are $3 at each of the five display galleries and at the Renwick Gallery of Art. Most of the galleries offer a price list, but you might have to ask for it. It will give you a good idea of the going rate.

THE TEXTILE MUSEUM (2320 S St. NW): The textile show is the biggest and best of the catagories. Today in Washington, as in most of the other places of the world, textile art is in the ascendance, though pottery was the leader of the craft revival of the '70s.

Merry Bean, who manages to combine good workmanship with good humor, is responsible for Odalisque in Stripes, a 48 by 24-by-44-inch soft sculpture of a scantily clad woman. For $400, she'd go home with you but would no doubt demand the best seat in the house. Bean's Bicentennial Quilt has appliqued depictions of tourist attractions in silhouette style ($1,200). Aldeth Spence Christy's 23-inch soft sculpture Angel is too big for a Christmas tree but might substitute for one (NFS, valued at $1,000). The fiber crafts woman who calls herself TABA is represented here by a chevron dress made of handwoven Guatemalan cotton (not cheap at $700). The crochet giraffe by Andrea V. Uravitch is 7 1/2 feet tall but won't eat the leaves on your trees (NFS, values at $1,000). Richard Mathews, whose massive sisal constructions hang in some major public spaces, is here representated by "Outspoken Wall," 7 by 8 feet.

THE DUPONT CENTER OF THE CORCORAN SCHOOL OF ART (1503 21st St. NW): The ceramis displays here are not as interesting as the fibrework, but still there are some pieces you would covet. Rexford Brown's "Autumn Leaves" is a 12 by 13 by 12-inch wheel-thrown stoneware pot, slip decorated (NFS values at $190). Jackie Chalkey's handbuilt porcelain and silver tableware - knife, fork, spoons ($35) - are handsome, along with the serving pieces ($75 each). So is Solveig Cox's "Hungarian Pot," ($70) a handbuilt and thrown stoneware pot. Richard Mower's garden table, wheel-thrown and handbuilt stoneware, 17 by 13 1/2 inches, is good looking and could be useful (NFS valued at ). Rima Schulkind's handbuilt porcelain bowl ($35) is, as usual, exquisite. I personally do not care for the funky pottery pieces in the show but perhaps that may be my loss.

ANNE HATHAWAY GALLERY of the Folger Shakespeare Library (201 East Capitol St. NE): The metal work here is distinguished especially by the remarkable work of David S. Kuhn, a Georgetown Day School student. Kuhn's cloisonne enamel, copper and wood table (NFS, value $2,000) is brilliant, as is his pectoral necklace. All the other work looks rather pale beside his. Joan Morgan's "Granny's handcuff" in silver and gold ($200) is exquisitely made. Francis T. Byrne Jr.'s teapot of pewter and rosewood looks like an ancient Middle East artifact ($600). Komelia H. Okim's "Peacock Wonder," of nickel, silver and peacock feathers is a breastplate. Some of the best executed work in the show is Nancy Trimble's tea strainer and spoon/straw, of silver ($175, $200 respectively.)

THE WASHINGTON PROJECT FOR THE ARTS (1227 G St. NW): The wood show here is very small but select, well worth the visit. The star is Peter Danko's side chair of poplar and oak veneers, laminated and formed in one piece (a bargain at $80). Carl Newman's knock-down dining set, for travelers who eat, is spare and rugged, of white oak and cowhide ($4,000).

The sole glassworker in the whos is Sal Fiorito. His "insignia" is very handsome in a neo-deco style.

Besides the major local shows, there are some others in commercial art galleries, and even, for heaven sakes, in the General Services Administration building.

GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION (18th and F Streets NW): The selection here is from several different types of works. Especially worth seeing are the elegant stoneware slabs by Tony Bennett; the large pottery sculpture by Turker Ozdogan; the splendidly made wood boxes of David Seagraves; the traditional pyramid quilt by Marcia Asmundstad, and the crochet sculpture "Say Ah" by Ardyth Davis.

GSA, under the proding of Joan Mondale, an author and art historian, and Jay Solomon, the GSA administrator, is showing its devotion to crafts by offering handmade objects to government workers for use in their offices as substitutes for mass-produced objects. Most of the inital group is from Appalachia: book ends, a lamp, ashtrays, among others. A small show of these works is on display, as well, with the local craft shows. Those moldy mausoleums of government lobbies can well use the humanizing influence of such shows.

If you want to know what a $1,500 pot looks like, you can go to the Barbara Fendrick Gallery, 3059 M St. NW, where there is a display of the "vessels" of Richard DeVore, head of the Cranbrook Academy of Art's ceramics department in Michigan. His work has an ancient rightness to it, with some of the central depressions reminding you of earthworks of now and long ago. One earthy red vessel is especially lovely. Fendrick has another good collection on display currently, the remarkably handsome jewelry sculpture - he calls it Artwear - of Robert Lee Morris, who works in silver, copper and brass. The pieces are indeed very architectural; the necklaces look like crown molding but are light enough for possible wear.

If you like natural materials, worked in a natural way, another snow worth seeing is the Eskimo sculpture at the Franz Bader's Gallery, 2124 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. The show came down yesterday, but Bader always keeps a few good-looking pieces around for display at Christmas time.

The work of George Nakashima, on exhibit this month at Full Circle Gallery, 112 King St. Alexandria, is well known in this area because of his furniture in the Woodworks exhibit, which opened at the Renwick Gallery. Recently one of Nakashima's best-known commissions was to design furniture for the entire house of Nelson Rockefeller (who could have had, no doubt, anybody he wanted for his cabinet-maker). Rockefeller, interestingly enough, chose Nakashima's work over the antique oriental pieces his mother left him. The Full Circle show includes, for sale, some pieces similar to Rockefeller's.