Most Post readers have never heard of, much less seen, copies of The Post's National Weekly Edition, a 40-page tabloid of selected news articles, analyses, columns, book reviews and editorials from the paper. Recently, the tabloid marked its first birthday, secure in its circulation of more than 50,000 -- well above what planners projected -- but concerned about advertising a bit below the expected levels.

It is a unique paper, edited by Noel Epstein, a veteran Post and Wall Street Journal editor and reporter, who refers to it as a "political journal for the country outside Washington." While it circulates nationally -- and to a few subscribers abroad -- it is quite different from the established national editions published daily by The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today. It is marketed as a magazine, and its circulation is audited as a magazine.

The subject matter is politics, government, economics and international affairs, and it differs from news magazines in that it does not attempt to deal with arts, sports, entertainment or life styles in detail. The focus for the National Weekly is the pulse of government, and readers include "political junkies" -- officeholders and those who would like to hold office -- their staffs, their consultants, pollsters, fund-raisers and fund-givers, academics media folk and people who represent various interests dealing with government.

Post reporters derive psychic -- if not monetary -- income from appearing in the Weekly because it brings their reports to additional readers. Epstein and his colleagues, Thomas W. Lippman, a former Post foreign correspondent and author; and Lois Reed Munday, who was editor of The Post's thriving "Washington Business" tabloid, work in a collegial atmosphere, sometimes trimming, sometimes combining Post pieces and striving to illustrate them from a stockpile of editorial cartoons and photographs.

The trio has to try to keep abreast of the news, but because the Weekly is mailed on the weekend, there is no chance to deal with late-breaking news. They have to stick to what lasts, "stories that don't grow beards," according to Epstein.

Readers don't seem to mind. An editorial writer on a West Coast paper said he looked to the Weekly as his storehouse of information and ideas. It is readers such as this who are attractive to advertisers seeking to "influence the agenda of government," noted Charles Hollingsworth, the Weekly general manager.

Obviously, for The Post it is a way to repackage what the paper has already produced and to market it again in a different way. Colorful covers are specially designed for the Weekly and every page seems to have a photo, drawing, map or chart, or some of each. A special Weekly eature is "What Americans Think," a column by Barry Sussman, The Post's director of polling, commenting on polls in The Post and other publications.

Epstein feels "polls are to politics what stock tables are to a financial page" and "they are an indicator of how things are going in the society as well."

David Broder on politics and Hobart Rowen on economics are "standards" in the Weekly, and other columnists are reprinted from time to time.

In a presidential election year there is a great deal more reader interest in horse-race politics -- who's ahead and who's behind -- than in other years. The infant Weekly has hit a high renewal rate among first-year subscribers though it will have to attract new readers in numbers sufficient to more than fill the ranks of those who don't renew. It also has to lure national advertising from firms seeking visibiltiy and reader approval.

In his opening statement a year ago, Editor Epstein said that "although few are aware of it today, a good number of U.S. newpapers once published national weeklies, particularly after the Civil War." The Post had such a publication starting in 1878, and Chalmers Roberts, in his history of the paper, noted that the Weekly circulated "as far south as Texas, west to Nebraska and north to New Hampshire." It is tradition then, albeit an interrupted one.