Engelina Reitsma-Valença (1889-1981) was born in Amsterdam in 1889, as the daughter of a diamond cleaver. Her father taught her how to cleave diamonds from an early age. In the little spare time he allowed her, Reitsma received drawing lessons at the Academy of Visual Arts. After a number of years she chose to specialise in engraving. Her teachers were the famous Dutch master Pieter Dupont, and later, famous stamp engraver J.J. Aarts. They taught her that the two most important tools for engraving were a steady hand and infinite patience.

It was soon quite obvious the lady was talented and when she was 24 she had already won the coveted Prix de Rome, allowing her to go to Italy and work on her technique. Back home she soon received many consignments, to design and engrave book covers, Ex Libris and portraits. During this time, Mrs. Reitsma not only engraved, but painted and drew as well. 

The facts that Mrs. Reitsma had been a pupil of Aarts’ and that she was well known for her portrait work, were reason enough for the Dutch postal authorities to ask her to get involved in stamp engraving. 

Her first consignment was a value in the 1927 Dutch Red Cross issue: the 5c depicting Prince Hendrik, Patron of the Dutch Red Cross. Her work proved so successful that, when two values for the same set, designed by her teacher Aarts, were rejected, she was asked to design two more values for the set. This she did, although those two additional values are not recess-printed but printed in photogravure as time was running out.

When interviewed at the time, Mrs Reitsma complained how hard it was to engrave stamps. She stated that one had to train one’s eye in a completely different way, compared to a regular engraving, having to look through a magnifying glass all the time. She said she found it incredibly hard to include all the details she’d like to, on such a small format, and was afraid to leave out too much so that the design would become heartless. Nevertheless she did enjoy the work.

It is true that her first stamp portraits can be described as slightly formal, detached and almost of monumental nature. This is not surprising, though, as they were all of the Royal Family, who at that time were deemed to be portrayed in such an almost aloof way.

The stamps received mixed reactions from both the general public and the philatelic press. But the postal authorities were very pleased with Mrs. Reitsma’s work. She was therefore given more work. From 1936 to 1947, she was part of a team of designers and engravers responsible for the annual charity stamps. At that time, these stamps always portrayed well-known Dutch personalities. These are much less formal, and Mrs. Reitsma’s talent was allowed to shine through much more effectively.

In all, Mrs. Reitsma designed and engraved ten portrait stamps for this series. Although most were based on a single existing portrait, the 1937 stamp of the famous Dutch poet Vondel was a portrait based on three different existing illustrations, which were amalgamated by Mrs. Reitsma into one portrait.

Even during the Second World War, Mrs Reitsma was able to work on stamps, designing (though no recess-printed stamps) two values of the Naval Heroes definitive set of 1943. Unlike fellow Jewish colleagues such as Hartz, who had to go into hiding, Mrs. Reitsma somehow managed to live through the war relatively unscathed.

After the war, she only designed and engraved one more stamp, but fittingly this was a stamp portraying Mr Van Royen, General Secretary of the Dutch PTT, the same man who had given her her first job as a stamp engraver!

This article was first published in Stamp and Coin Mart of August 2013 and is reproduced with their kind permission. 


Netherlands, Red cross 5c

Netherlands, Welfare funds

Netherlands, Welfare funds

Netherlands, Relief fund

Netherlands, Relief fund

Netherlands, Relief fund

Netherlands, Relief fund

Netherlands, Relief fund