OUR CYCLOPEAN eye was caught by the juxta-position of two recent stories - one about a St. Louis gunman who handed back $23 to his victim because the sum was insufficient, the other about Nelson A. Rockefeller, who has gone into the business of selling reproductions of works of art. The gunman's contempt would never have been shown by Mr. Rockefellers or, we imagine, by any of the Rockefellers down through history. The Rockefellers know the value of $23, and of $1,750 - the latter two figures being the prices of two of Mr. Rockefeller's new wares.

Now you may think it a bit much to shell out, say, $850 for a framed cibachrome reproduction of Picasso's "Jeune Fille a la Mandolin ," but the essential thing about the Picasso, or any of the reproduced Giacomettis or Toulouse-Lautrecs advertised in a special Neiman-Marcus catalogue ("itself a work of art"), is that the originals are owned by Mr. Rockefeller. For a mere $850, then one does not only tiptoe into the world of beauty, but into the world of the Rockefellers as well. In short, what Mr. Rockefeller seems to be selling is his own glittery life, reproduced for a price - though that is not what he claims. His professed reason for this enterprise is "to share with others" his "joy of living with these beautiful objects." And who would doubt his sincerity?

Good luck to him, we say. Every American deserves to make a million, or even a billion, depending on where one starts. One troubling memory lingers, however, which we'll simply recount, and then keep still:

The event occurred in 1973, when Mr. Rockefeller, then governor of New York, wanted to secure the Republican mayoral nomination for Robert Wagner. So he invited five prominent New York City Republican to Albany, to twist their arms. One of the guests, George Clark of Brooklyn, was furious with Mr. Rockefeller because of his frendship with Meade. Esposito, the Brooklyn Democratic boss.

"Governor, you even gave him a Picasso!" fumed Mr. Clark. At which Mr. Rockefeller smiled, recognizing envy in Mr. Clark's fury.

"Hell, George," he said. "It was only a print."