THE BULLETIN of Philadelphia, once this country's

largest afternoon daily and the premier newspaper that nearly everybody in Philadelphia read--that is, until not nearly enough did in the final days--died Friday at the age of 134. It was the fourth large daily to close in the past six months. In Washington, of course, the sense of loss is understood only too well; and besides The Washington Star, the latest mastheads added to the death toll include the New York Daily News Tonight edition and the morning Philadelphia Journal.

Were deaths merely "closings"--the shutdown of one medium in favor of another--the adjustments might seem natural consequences of changes in technology, leisure time, living patterns, economics or readers' appetites for news. But with The Bulletin, as with the others, there is a unique lore, a personality.

From its establishment through its grandest years, The Bulletin was home for reporters who covered the city scene efficiently, thoroughly and in a correct style that some of them even called prissy. At its peak circulation in the postwar era, nearly everybody really was reading it, too. And as has been the case at so many other newspapers, even the lengthy illness preceding death was not the result of an absence of quality in the editorial content, but rather of financial problems.

In 1970, the rival Philadelphia Inquirer was taken over by Knight Newspapers, Inc. (now Knight-Ridder), and it began to thrive--nurtured by huge commitments of money, management and talent. It was not long before the advertising linage and circulation figures would start to shift, and The Bulletin would feel it. In a fond appreciation of The Bulletin, writer Edgar Williams, who worked there before joining The Inquirer, concluded that "nearly everyone in Philadelphia is losing something special."

And the loss, we might add, is felt in quarters well beyond that city's limits.