WARNAAR, Johannes Jacobus

Johannes Jacobus (Jan) Warnaar (1866-1959) started his career at the works of the famous Dutch silversmith Van Kempen as a 14-year-old lad, in 1880, where he was taught the art of engraving. Being very talented, he was soon able to develop his skill and start designing pieces of silverware too. He made quite a name for himself and even though he rarely signed his work, experts have been able to identify most of it. His silverware may be found in many national museums and it does still come up at international top class auctions.

However, in 1922, Warnaar left the firm to go to the printers Enschedé and Sons, where he was employed as a stamp engraver. Here, too, he made quite a name for himself. His arrival at Enschedé’s coincided with the upcoming Silver Jubilee of Queen Wilhelmina for which a special commemorative set would be issued. This was quite a special occasion in those days as it had been ten years since the last commemorative stamp issue.

The Dutch postal authorities had invited Professor Aarts, probably the most famous engraver of his time, to engrave the dies for the two different designs. Aarts had also engraved the previous commemorative set, in 1913, to mark the Centenary of the Dutch monarchy. 

Enschedé, however, being used to working with their own designers and engravers for banknotes and other security documents, had asked their new and promising employee Warnaar to make dies as well. When submitted to the authorities, they actually preferred Warnaar’s dies to those of Aarts. When Aarts, who was unaware of there being ‘competition’, heard of that, he exploded and threatened to abandon the whole project. The authorities, not wanting to alienate Aarts too much, hastily arranged for each engraver to do one particular design. And so Warnaar got to engrave the Wilhelmina portrait, which would eventually be used for the bulk of the set. Both Enschedé and Warnaar himself were rather pleased that their work on both dies was thought to be superior to that of famous Professor Aarts!

It would mark the beginning of a successful career for Warnaar, who stayed at Enschedé until his retirement in 1936. During that time Warnaar, sometimes in cooperation with other engravers, was responsible for some of the iconic stamp issues in the Netherlands. Among those are the two stamps that make up the 1934 Crisis issue. Again it includes a stamp portraying Queen Wilhelmina which shows the talent of Warnaar, especially when realising that this stamp was engraved under enormous time pressure because the design phase had taken much longer than expected. 

Warnaar’s work on stamp engravings exists mainly of portraits and a fine array of these can be found in the 1934 set for Curaçao, to mark the Third Centenary of Dutch Colonisation. It is a large set of seventeen values which includes various portraits of influential people of that era. 

His final work, too, was a portrait, of Guyot, an influential figure in the early days of deaf education. It was to form part of the 1935 Dutch charity set. Because of Warnaar’s imminent retirement, Enschedé had two other engravers prepare a die for this particular stamp as well, Sem Hartz and Engelina Reitsma. They were well-known and experienced engravers but in a repeat performance of Warnaar’s first work, when all the dies were compared, that of Warnaar was thought to be superior to the other two. And so it was Warnaar’s die from which the stamp was printed, making it a fitting end to his career.

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


The design phase for the 1934 Dutch Crisis stamps had taken so long that there was hardly any time left to engrave the dies. This is why, in the end, Warnaar and Rudolf Steinhausen had to assist H. Seegers on the die for the 6c stamp. The 5c stamp was a co-production of both Warnaar and Steinhausen.


Netherlands, Silver jubilee, Wilhelmina design only

Netherlands, Child welfare 6c

Netherlands, William I of Orange 1.5c and 12.5c

Curaçao, Dutch colonisation (? only mentioned in SG, not NVPH)
Netherlands, Crisis
Netherlands, Curaçao tercentenary

Netherlands, Welfare stamps, 1.5c and 12.5c


- Handboek Postwaarden Nederland, Issue C20