Brass Priced Out of Its Class When the republic collapses it will be because of the highway robbery in the field of brass knobs going on at my hardware store.

Some years ago I bought inside shutters for seven windows and sawed them down on the living room floor and while they do not exactly fit and were penultimate hell to paint, for I distrust sprays, and the FBI scared me considerably, they do well enough.

The FBI, as far as I know, did not think the shutters arrestable but merely called to ask my opinion of some casual acquaintance, who is probably now in Sing Sing, and chose the hottest day of summer to pay a call. There I was humming and buzzing happily when the federal agent appeared at the door, sufficient to alarm any good citizen. My wife was out of town, it goes without saying, since if she had been there I probably would not have been allowed to saw on the shutters with the door open and me in my shorts and the hound briskly distributing sawdust with her noble paws and powerful tail.

All of which I mention only to show the shutters have a history and are a Thing of Consequence to me. Otherwise you would not understand why some little brass knobs enthralled me in a hardware store at Brighton, Margaret Thatcher's town.

The shutters originally came with plastic knobs to pull them open and there was nothing wrong with them, but if there is one thing in the world that turns me on it's polished brass. These knobs cost 71 cents each, and because I don't add very well (four pairs of shutters per window) I wound up two knobs short.

Affixing the new knobs with my trusty drill and screwdriver I could not believe I had counted wrong but these things happen, so I set out to my Georgetown hardware store to see what they had.

They had identical knobs, incredibly, but instead of 71 cents they are $3.80 each. If you multiply that by 28 you will see the horror of it all.

What will happen to the republic? I think the knobs are made in America to begin with, so I don't see how they can sell them for a fifth the American price in England. Even if the English ones are made there and the American knobs are made here, our technology ought to be able to turn out small knobs at a competitive price.

And don't say the dollar is overvalued. It's not overvalued five and a half times too much. The question arises whether anybody has ever bought one of the $3.80 knobs although we have a good many loons in America, and my guess is that since the store probably never will sell any, they'll stop stocking them and then when you go in and ask for one they'll say:

"Oh, they don't make 'em anymore. Wasn't any demand."

And then everybody will have to import the little critters from England, which you can do now for a fraction of the cost of the ones here.

Why do ours cost so much? For the same reason our military airplane coffee machines do.

Don't mistake me. I don't get hot and bothered at business inefficiency or greed; I merely point out that when an American knob costs five and a half times the English knob, the instinct is to head for Brighton. Buy American, my eye. Of course if the American company goes bankrupt our famous safety net will take care of them, and they probably aren't paying any taxes to begin with, and then at the next appropriate rally the brass manufacturer will utter hymns to American know-how. But what they don't know is that while I need a couple more knobs I won't buy them at a 550 percent markup.

These $3.80 American knobs aren't even guaranteed to work if the house is bombed.