A superlative exhibit showing 19th century covers and all the stamps issued by Fiji through 1949 won the grand award at BALPEX `88, the three-day stamp show in Baltimore.

The exhibition is sponsored each Labor Day weekend by the Baltimore Philatelic Society, which next year will mark its 100th birthday.With the Colombia-Panama Philatelic Study Group holding its annual convention in connection with the show, a little more than 40 percent of the exhibits were stamps and covers from the Latin American area.

Collectors showing Latin American material won six of the 10 gold medals awarded by the panel of seven judges and their share of other honors, but it was the 80-page Fiji exhibit that got the top prize.

The exhibitor was shown in the program as "Cakobau Rex," an early king of Fiji, but the tall young man who stepped forward to accept the prize, a mantel clock, was Peter A. Robertson of New York, curator of the Philatelic Foundation.

The first stamps of the South Pacific island group were produced on a newspaper press at the Fiji Times Express in Suva late in 1870. The second issue came from the same press a year or so later. The winning exhibit showed stamps from both these issues used on the cover. In the case of the first issue, only two such covers are known.

The exhibit also included complete panes of early stamps and two other blocks that are the largest known multiples, plus a variety of proofs, specicem stamps and errors.

By winning at BALPEX, the exhibit qualified for the Champion of Champions competition, the so-called world series of philately, sponsored by the American Philatelic Society to pick the most outstanding stamp exhibit shown anywhere in the country each year.

One of the requirements for judges handling the big national shows is that they hold a critique at which exhibitors and other collectors can ask questions.

Even though 23 of the 55 exhibits at BALPEX were from the Latin American area, these exhibits prompted only one question at the critique. The result was withering criticism of the exhibitor by one of the judges.

The collector had cut out a stamp used to illustrate a dealer's business card and included it in his Colombian exhibit as a color trial proof. One of the BALPEX judges happened to be Alex Rendon, a world authority on the stamps of Colombia.

* The appearance of Volume 2 of the 1989 edition of Scott's Standard Postage Stamp Catalog has been as notable for the lack of comment that it inspired as Volume 1 was for the hullaballoo it raised.

The Scott editors made almost wholesale catalog value cuts in Volume 1, which covers U.S. and British Commonwealth stamps, and in doing so enraged stamp dealers who carry large inventories of these issues.

One asked the American Stamp Dealers Association to serve as arbitrator in his dispute with the Scott publisher. He wants to recover $1 million in damages, which he said he would donate to charity. The association has declined to become involved.

The Scott editors made almost 25,000 price changes in the new edition of Volume 2, covering countries whose names begin with A through F, which means Afars and Issas, the French territory in East Africa, through Funchal, an island in the Atlantic, now a part of Portugal.

Some figure-filbert at the stamp publishing company found that 11,498 of the price changes were increases and 13,046 were cuts of varying degrees.

Two factors more than any others allowed Volume 2 to appear with no more than a raised eyebrow, while the new Volume 1 brought a tremendous reaction. Volume 1 prompted a great outpouring of letters to stamp newspapers, most of them critical. The number of letters has dropped only slightly, even though the catalog has been out more than two months.

First, the sharp price cuts for stamps from popular countries like Canada, Australia, Britain and, to a lesser extent, the United States, came as a complete surprise.

After that, stamp people - dealers and collectors - were ready for similar news about the A through F countries. When Volume 2's price changes were fairly equally divided, comment was restrained.

The other factor shows my bias. I believe that the countries in Volume 2, although some have their devoted followers, are simply not as popular with collectors as stamps from the United States and the British Commonwealth.