So what would you take the Shah or Iran if he invited you over to spend New Year's Eve?

How does a set of $252.50 porcelain plates in a $67.50 presentation case - all picked out by Richard Nixon strike you? Paid for, of course, by you as a taxpayer.

That's exactly what Jimmy Carter is doing on his New Year's trip abroad. And if the idea that Carter would bear state gifts that Richard Nixon selected comes as a surprise, in the waste-not-want-not Carter administration it shouldn't.

There is, according to Carter's Chief of Protocol Evan Dobelle, who handles such matters, a veritable "stockpile of gifts" at the State Department, almost all left over from the free-spending Nixon years.

"There is a sufficient number," said Dobelle, declining to give a count, "to last us for several years."

It's not exactly out of character, then, for the fiscally conservative Jimmy Carter to take Nixon leftovers to give the head of Poland's Communist Party, the Shah of Iran and the Presidents of India and France.

"He is extremely open-minded about using things which are already here," said one State Department official.

The plates come in sets of six and depict reproductions of a series of Winslow Homer paintings titled "The Young America of Winslow Homer." Nixon ordered 50 sets at a cost of $13,125. They were to be his Bicentennial gifts to foreign leaders.

Manufactured by Lenox China Inc., of Pomona, N.J., and issued by a now-defunct private corporation called the U.S. Bicentennial Society, the plates were shown to Nixon at the White House in February 1973.

"He liked them very much," said a State Department official, "so he directed us to purchase them in that quantity."

When they arrived in the spring of 1974, they were in cardboard boxes considered unsuitable for presentation. So 50 velvet-lined handcrafted wooden cases costing $3,375 were ordered from a Virginia cabinetmaker.

"There was much more of a gift-giving attitude in that administration," said the source.

"At one point," said a former member of Nixon's protocol team, "you were gifting everybody under the sun."

"We just didn't buy two or three of a kind," said a former chief of protocol, Marion H. Smoak. "We'd buy six or 12 or 40."

Smoak's successor, Henry Catto, who stayed on for part of the Ford administration said "a fair amount" of items was bought in the Nixon years but Ford quickly ended the practice. He preferred "voluntary" gifts. American products that could be obtained at no cost to the government.

"It seemed to make perfect sense," said Catto, "that the only way to give nice things was either to beg or buy them."

If the Nixon philosophy was that gifts were cheaper-by-the-dozen and Gerald Ford's easier on the pocket-book if donated, Jimmy Carter's practice seems to be, as Press Secretary Jody Powell once put it, "tight as a tick."

"We go to the vault where we have many fine works of art," said Dobelle. "We find something there relative to what the State Department substantive (country) office considers appropriate. Then we send an approval memo to the President who approves it."

The Carter adminstration has no desire, however, to enlarge the State Department stockpile with its inventory elaborate porcelain or crystal art objects.

One such item among the three trunkloads of gifts accompanying Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter is a 19-inchtall unglazed bisque porcelain owl donated in December 1974, by Cybis of Trenton, N.J.

"We're indeed flattered," said Cybis president Joseph Chorlton of Carter's decision to present the owl to the people of Poland for exhibition in the Royal Palace of Warsaw.

Cybis, like the nationally advertised Boehn Birds and Steuben Glass, was a favorite supplier of gifts either by donation or at discount prices during the Nixon years. On Nixon's trip to Moscow in 1972, Cybis provided, at a greatly reduced price, the one-of-a-kind porcelain chess set valued at $250,000 and presented as a gift to the Russian people.

Yet another gift from the State Department stockpile that Carter took abroad is a Steuben crystal "Prism of the Golden Eagle." Since a golden eagle in the base is reflected up into the prism, it was thought also to reflect Saudi Arabian King Khalid's interest in birds. Or, more precisely, falconry.

Only the gift to Belgium's King Baudouin, of the six Carter is giving heads of state (books are going to their heads of government), was solicited by Dobelle. Shortly after Carter took office, Dobelle said he asked the governors of the 50 states to contribute items handcrafted by local artisans. Both Khalid and Baudouin received the Winslow Homer plates from Nixon or Ford on previous state occasions, according to Dobelle.

Responses came from about 30 governors, among them Virginia's Mills Godwin, who provided the hammered sterling silver beaker from Williamsburg destined from Baudouin. The link, according to Dobelle, is Baudouin's interest in antique silver.

Matching interests is crucial, according to Wiley Buchanan, chief of protocol to President Eisenhower.

"You wouldn't take porcelain to Vienna, or a sheep to a place where they think it's holy."

Even so there have been slipups. One former protocol officer remembers arriving in Tokyo with a couple of dozen tape recorders, only to discover they had been made in Japan.

Marion Smoak remembers when Ronald Reagan, representing Nixon took a jade tree designed by Nancy Reagan to the King of Thailand, though Thailand has some spectacular jade of its own.

Today in Warsaw, Rosalynn Carter will give 200 coloring books to patients at the new Child Health Center. She also will give the Polish Jazz Federation a set of tapes, made at a recent White House concert by Sarah Vaughn and Dizzy Gillespie with Willis Conover narrating.

Neither gift is likely to embarrass the Americans or the Poles.

The White House concert was during the visit here of the Shah of Iran carefully edited out. "It seemed to make more sense not to go into that," said a spokesperson for Mrs. Carter.

And the coloring books are the creation of a Michigan woman who wanted to teach her daughter about Polish folk heroes and customs to counter the ethnic jokes.