Already during the war, René Herse had employees. There were between 5 and 7 in the late 1940s, and down to 2 at the low point of the 1960s. Jean Desbois both worked at the shop in the 1940s and early 1950s, then returned in the 1970s before Rene Herse died. He knows more about these bikes than anybody ever did, except Rene Herse himself. Rene's daughter Lyli worked in the shop from her teens. After Rene Herse died, Lyli and Jean Desbois took over the shop. The bikes evolved - see the later bikes in "The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles," but it was a careful evolution with great respect for the tradition.
While Herse seems to have built few, if any frames - he always employed builders - Jean Desbois built most of the frames after he took over the shop. Output went down as fashion changed, but many Desbois bikes are among the most amazing Herse bikes ever made.
The experience of an Herse may have been different for Americans, for whom it involved ocean liners and a trip to Paris (although most Americans in the 1970s flew to Paris, which is why the Demontable model was popular over here). For French riders, an Herse meant getting the best bike, bar none. That is why people made their way to Herse, and paid a price that was significantly more than other constructeurs charged.
Herse (and Singer and other constructeurs) did not sell a lifestyle product. It was straightforward - you got a bike that was custom-tailored not just to your body, but also your way of riding a bike. Whether you were a racer, a newspaper carrier, a randonneur or going on a self-supported camping tour - Herse built you a bike that was without equal.
It will be a high standard to live up to, and I wish Mike the best of luck. Bicycle Quarterly has been promised a test bike, and I look forward to riding it. -- Jan Heine Editor Bicycle Quarterly 140 Lakeside Ave #C Seattle WA 98122 http://www.bikequarterly.com