Richard and Martha Mohr
by Mark Mohr
International Bookfinders, a unique mail order rare book search service, was founded in Southern California by Richard and Martha Mohr in 1950. At the time, Richard worked full time in the advertising industry as a copywriter, but his real passion was the book business.
Richard & Martha Mohr's booth, LA Book Fair, 1961
Dick Mohr became the President of International Bookfinders and Martha Mohr became the Secretary/Treasurer. They launched their fledgling part time operation out of their small home in West Los Angeles on a shoestring budget but with an innovative business model: instead of having an actual bookstore, he would instead act as a middleman connecting a book buyer with a book seller through the mail. He carefully assembled a list of hundreds of used and rare bookstores in the United States, Canada and England. He then took out small advertisements in high-profile publications such as the New Yorker advertising a "free" book search service with the catchy slogan "You name it, We find it." Figuring that a prestigious address would be helpful, they leased Post Office Box 3003 in Beverly Hills.
People would write in from around the country with a list of books they were looking for. Dick and Martha would mimeograph several hundred pages of that week's meticulously alphabetized "want list" and mail them to various booksellers around the world. Soon, the bookstores would write back with the condition and price of any of the books they had on hand that were on the weekly list. Dick would then contact the potential buyer with the good news that the book had been located and what the cost would be to him. The buyer sent Dick Mohr a check, Dick sent a check to the bookstore, and the bookstore would ship directly to the buyer. In the pre-fax, pre-internet era this became an amazingly efficient and profitable network of buyers and sellers.
In 1957, Richard and Martha Mohr moved to a new home in Pacific Palisades, California. Eventually, they seized the opportunity to lease the prized "Box One" mailbox at the new Post Office there.
International Bookfinders could locate practically any book on practically any subject but they began to specialize in Western Americana. Occasionally, a purchase order would fall through and the Mohrs would wind up owning the book themselves. Martha used to say "He never held a book he didn't like." Before long, their new house began to resemble the bookstore they had hoped to avoid occupying. As individual book search business increased, International Bookfinders added a new wrinkle to their operation: they began to amass collections of books on a single topic and then offer them to universities, historical societies and museums. Among their most successful efforts were assembling collections on the Civil War and the Range Country of the American West.
At NY Bookfair 1974
l to r: Michael Ginsberg of Michael Ginsberg Books in Sharon, MA; Richard Mohr; John Martin of Black Sparrow Press
In the mid-1970's, he created a unique collection of 1,300 books by 650 well known authors. The collection encompassed the first editions of the author's first two books. It had taken him years to painstakingly acquire all of the volumes and he proudly trumpeted it as "The first collection of its kind ever developed." Many years later, Peter Howard of Serendipity Books in Berkeley, California wrote of this collection in one of his own catalogues:
Dick, bless his memory, he was independent of others in the manner and integrity with which he acted as a bookseller, as International Bookfinders, thought up the notion of collecting first and second books.
Richard Mohr took a special delight in visiting book stores around the country, combing through bookstores, attending book fairs, meeting other book dealers and discovering treasures for possible future collections. Many of his business colleagues became his close friends. On the occasion of his 75th birthday in 1996, he received these accolades, among many others:
I occasionally get a question about my attraction to the book business. If the inquirer seems to really want to know, I always give them a litany of the great book people I had the fortune to meet and know. Dick Mohr is at the top of the list.
W. David Laird
Books West Southwest
Bookmen of your caliber are in short supply.
Randall House Books
Santa Barbara, California
You set for us an example of high standards in condition, and a thoroughness in quoting. You never questioned our prices, a rare occurrence in this business.
Henry and Louise Moises
San Francisco, California
Dick was such a vibrant man. I think of both Dick and Martha very often. They were such a genuine and necessary part of my life experience. Dick and I did so many book deals together (mostly I confess to my benefit!). And Martha was always there to calmly oversee everything.
Black Sparrow Books
There really is no one like you. And now that I know something of the antiquarian and rare booktrade of the past, there wasn�t even anyone like you in history.
Fairleigh Dickinson University Library
I think we did our customers proud.
A. Burton Garbett
Richard and Martha, with son Mark
Malibu, California, 2001
Richard Mohr survived an aortic dissection in 1992 but subsequent health issues forced his early and extremely reluctant retirement from the active world of the book business a short time later. Most of his books went out on consignment to his trusted colleagues Ralph Sipper, Ron Randall and Peter Howard. Richard would have loved the instant communication benefits of the internet, but he may not have welcomed the increased competition! He passed away in December, 2002. His widow, Martha Mohr, moved to Spokane, Washington in 2003 to be close to their son, Mark and his family.
Postscript: Martha Mohr passed away October 23rd, 2006.
Mark writes: Thought you'd like to know about an update to the legacy of IB and its post office box mailing address. Here's a link to a story in the Palisadian-Post. I've also included a photo [above] of the Box One framed memento referenced in the article.