History of American Tanto Point?

Over the years, I too have read (primarily on this forum) that Lynn Thompson claimed credit for the Americanized tanto when that credit actually belonged to Bob Lum. The problem with that theory has always been that no tanto made by Cold Steel remotely resembled any of Lum's knives. Well, no Cold Steel tanto, that is, except for two. Thanks to the archiving efforts of jlauffer, we have this Cold Steel ad created in 1981.


You will note that the two tantos depicted actually do resemble Lum tantos, including what look to be hamaguri-ground points. So it appears that Cold Steel made knives that reflected Bob Lum's design.

Except it's not quite that simple. In forty years of collecting knives, reading everything about knives I can get my hands on (magazines, books, catalogs, ads), attending knife shows, browsing knife shops, visiting knife museums, perusing multiple knife forums--in all that time, I've only seen those Cold Steel tantos once: In that ad! I have never seen one physical example (or even a photograph) of either of those two knives. Until that ad was posted, I never knew that Cold Steel made such knives. I've also never spoken to any Cold Steel collectors who have ever seen one.

For inclusion in his Knives '82 book, Ken Warner in 1981 wrote this of Bob Lum's tanto (which Warner referred to as "armor-piercing," by the way): "Bob Lum's oriental fighting knife is about as clean a design as you can find anywhere. So far, his designs are quite obviously his own; no one is copying them yet."

The following year in 1982 (for print in Knives '83), Warner devoted a three-page spread to "The Japanese Line," which included Americanized tantos from numerous custom makers (including Lum, Howard Viele, Phill Hartsfield, and others) and which also debuted Cold Steel's Tanto. That Cold Steel Tanto [Warner described the knife as "just announced from Naked Steel" (sic)] looked like this.


Obviously Cold Steel's iconic Tanto--which looks absolutely nothing like any Bob Lum knife, including the point--was already in production by 1982. So from the company's inception in 1980 until the release of the Tanto in 1982, did Cold Steel sell knives that were derivatives of Bob Lum's tantos? Based on that 1981 ad, I suppose it's possible. But I've never seen evidence that those Cold Steel tantos depicted in the ad were ever actually produced.

I think it's safe to say that Bob Lum never lost a single customer to Cold Steel. I think it's also safe to say that Cold Steel's Tanto defines the concept of the Americanized tanto.


Thanks for the very complete post and I have been into knives since the early 90's and I do not remember any CS tanto ever looking like a Lum tanto, except some of the newer designs of recent times.

If Lum patented or registered the design I would love to see that. Otherwise, I do not consider any of this of any relevance except for historical reasons.
He also said Lynn bought one of his customs at a California show and was soon producing his commercial tanto.

Your anecdote is interesting, and I appreciate your repeating it. But I'm afraid that it doesn't clarify anything historically. Did Bob mean that Lynn purchased one of his tantos and then began producing these, which resemble Lum tantos but no one has ever seen outside of this ad?


Or did Bob mean that Lynn purchased one of his tantos and then began producing these, which don't look anything like a Lum tanto but generated the 1980s Tanto Craze and became one of the most copied knives of all time?


Bob is gone now, so we'll never know the answer. But I think that the implication that Lynn Thompson "stole" the idea for the Americanized tanto point from Bob Lum and then proceeded to make a mint off of that idea is disingenuous at best. As I said in my previous post, multiple custom makers were generating Americanized tantos by 1982. The tanto wave was already beginning; Lynn Thompson just hopped on early, added his unique style of product promotion, and made the most of the opportunity. He also advanced the state-of-the-art with his Tanto model, I might add, by refining the point shape for improved fighting performance, creating the first production knife with a Kraton handle, and insisting that his production knife be capable of passing the ABS testing standards.

Bob never patented any thing. I'm guessing you would be a better customer for Cold Steel than him.

I don't understand the animosity. Cobalt is correct, we're simply pursuing facts. It doesn't need to be a Bob-Lum-Camp-versus-Lynn-Thompson-Camp argument. I think Michael Janich's "A Tale of Two Tantos" article summarized the history fairly accurately. When someone asks about the development of the Americanized tanto, isn't it sufficient to say, "That's easy. On the custom side you have Bob Lum. On the production side you have Lynn Thompson."?