WITH SO MANY new stamps to issue this year, the U.S. Postal Service literally started unveiling one of the new designs the moment the New Year began.

The first design, the 1988 Love stamp, was set for unveiling early Friday morning during the New Year's Eve celebration at the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue. It was the fifth year in a row that the Postal Service has used the ceremony to reveal the design for its popular Love stamp.

This year's stamp features a pink rose and is expected to adorn thousands of valentines, wedding invitations and other first-class mail.

But even the most bleary-eyed of New Year's Eve's celebrants probably spotted something awry with the huge reproduction of the stamp as it descended the clock tower.

The stamp lacked a denomination and that's a clue to why so many new stamps are expected this year. 1988 will be a rate-change year, and the Postal Service is hurrying the release of its first group of 1988 commemoratives to clear the way for the scores of stamps that will be needed for higher postal rates that should become effective May 1.

One of the stamps getting the hurry-up treatment is the commemorative marking the 200th anniversary of Maryland's statehood. The 22-cent stamp will be the seventh in the series honoring the 13 original states, and it will be released February 15 in Annapolis.

That's well in advance of April 28, the actual anniversary of Maryland statehood, but that date is just two days before the anticipated rate change. Postal Service officials moved up the Maryland debut in hopes of assuring wider sales and use of the commemorative.

The vivid multicolor design is a product of Annapolis resident Stephen Hustvedt, an artist best known for his paintings of marine scenes. His followers won't be disappointed by the commemorative which features a harbor scene from his hometown.

Plying the Severn River in the foreground is Maryland skipjack No. 48, the Clarence Crockett. Built in 1908, the Crockett is part of the sail-powered oyster fleet that still works the Chesapeake and its tributaries.

In the background is the Annapolis skyline, featuring the dome of the Maryland State House and the spire of St. Anne's Church.

The stamp will go on sale in the morning at the Statehouse but will not be formally dedicated until an evening session of the state legislature. Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Senior Assistant Postmaster General Mitchell H. Gordon, a resident of Bethesda, will speak.

It's only the second stamp to honor Maryland as a state. Because the last one was issued 54 years ago, the ceremonies are likely to attract many of the state's stamp collectors. Since seating in the state capitol will be limited, collectors wanting to attend probably should contact the Postal Service's Stamp Information Division for tickets to the event.

On February 6, state officials in Massachusetts will be assembling in Boston's Faneuil Hall for ceremonies marking the release of that state's stamp in the same series.

Designed by Richard Sheaff of Needham, Massachusetts, the 22-cent commemorative features a line drawing of the Old Statehouse, the state's first public building. Built of wood in 1658 to serve as Boston's Town Hall, it was replaced with a brick structure in 1711. The view on the stamp is taken from a 1793 engraving of the building.

Eight of the 13 original states ratified the Constitution in 1788, and all eight this year will get commemorative stamps marking the event.

Georgia's commemorative will be the first issued this year. The Postal Service last week said the previously revealed stamp will be released Wednesday during cermonies in the State Capitol in Atlanta.

Collectors seeking first-day cancellations of the statehood stamps must have their requests postmarked within 30 days of the release date. The Postal Service will affix stamps on as many as 50 envelopes for each collector at the price of 22 cents per stamp.

Individuals who apply their own stamps to envelopes should send them to: Customer-Affixed Envelopes, Statehood Stamp, Postmaster, Atlanta, GA 30304-9991, for the Georgia stamp; Boston, MA 02205-9991, for the Massachusetts stamp, and Annapolis, MD 21401-9991, for the Maryland stamp.

Individuals who want the postal service to affix the stamps should mail their requests with payment by personal check to the same postmasters but use 9992 as the last four ZIP code digits.

The Bureau of the Mint has asked 10 artists as well as its own engravers to contribute designs for the $5 gold and $1 silver commemorative Olympic coins it plans to issue later this year to help raise funds for the U.S. Olympic Committee. The final designs for the coins will be selected by Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III.

Bill McAllister is a member of The Post's national staff.