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HQ 086175

April 3, 1990

CLA-2 CO:R:C:G 086175 NLP


TARIFF NO.: 9601.10.0000

Lisa Schuh-Kahn, President
LSK Associates, Inc.
22 Hattie Court
Middletown, NJ 07748

RE: Ivory carvings

Dear Ms. Schuh-Kahn:

This is in response to your letter of December 1, 1989, requesting a tariff classification of ivory fossil carvings, under the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States Annotated (HTSUSA). Descriptive literature was submitted for our examination.


The merchandise at issue is fossil ivory carvings produced by the Tobolsk artisans of Tobolsk, Siberia, Russia.


What is the HTSUSA tariff classification of the Tobolsk ivory carvings?


In your papers you suggest that the ivory carvings are ethnographic in origin and are, therefore, classifiable under subheading 9705.00.0090, HTSUSA, which provides for collections and collectors' pieces of...ethnographic interest, other. In furtherance of your belief, you have submitted definitions of ethnography as well as other information on these Russian carvings.

Subheading 9705, HTSUS, does not provide a definition for ethnographic objects. Tariff terms are considered in accordance with their common and commercial meaning, which are presumed to be the same. Nippon Kogaku (USA) Inc. v. United States, 673 F.2d 380 (1982). To ascertain the common [and commercial] meaning [of a tariff term], in addition to relying upon its own understanding of the terms used, the courts may consult dictionaries, lexicons, the testimony of record, and other reliable sources of information as an aid to its knowledge. Pistorini & Co., Inc. v. United States, 461 F. Supp. 331, 332 (1978). In the instant case, in order to understand the meaning of the word ethnographic as used in the HTSUSA, we have looked to dictionary definitions of the term, the Explanatory Notes of the HTSUS, your submissions and the previous Tariff law of the United States, the Tariff Schedules of the United States (TSUS).

A representative definition of the term ethnography defines it as the branch of anthropology that deals descriptively with specific cultures, especially those of primitive people or groups. Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition (1988). The Explanatory Notes to the Harmonized System provide the official interpretation of the HTSUSA at the international level. The Explanatory Notes to subheading 9705, HTSUS, state that collections and collector's pieces of ethnographic interest include:

(2) Articles having a bearing on the study of activities, manners, customs and characteristics of contemporary primitive people, for example, tools, weapons or objects of worship.

Based on the information provided, it appears that the ivory carvings do depict activities of a certain culture, however, we do not find that these ivory carvings are necessarily characteristic of a primitive people or culture. Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition (1988), defines primitive as of or existing in the beginning or the earliest times or ages Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, (1988), defines contemporary as living or happening in the same period or time period. The information provided does not describe whether the people being depicted in the carvings reflect a culture existing in the beginning of time that still exists today.

For example, though the map submitted describes ethno- linguistic groups, we are unsure which area and group relate to the culture that the Tobolsk artisans depict in their carvings. There is also no indication as to whether the groups of people depicted are primitive groups or indigenous to the Siberian area. Moreover, though the article "Siberia's Empire Road, the River Ob" mentions the artisans of Tobolsk, there is little information about the culture they depict in their carvings. National Geographic, vol. 149, No. 2, February 1976, 176. In addition, even if the Eskimo artifacts discovered by Edward Nelson are ethnographic objects, the instant carvings were not created by Eskimos, were not found 100 year ago and may not be from the same area as the Eskimo carvings. "People's of the Arctic", National Geographic, Vol. 163, No.2, February 1983, 144. While the Berizoka pamphlet does provide more information, it deals with bone, not ivory, carvings. In addition, the fact that early Russian settlers initiated the fossil carvings does not necessarily mean that the carvings depict a primitive culture.

Finally, the previous tariff laws, the TSUS, though not binding on the present tariff laws, provides guidance for present classification of merchandise absent an explicit change in the new laws over the previous. Item 766.20, TSUS, provided duty free treatment for ethnographic objects made in traditional aboriginal styles and made at least 50 years prior to their date of entry. In accordance with this definition, the instant ivory carvings would not be considered ethnographic for they do not appear to be made by the earliest known inhabitants of the region and they were not made 50 years before entry.


The ivory carvings are not ethnographic in nature. They are classifiable 9601.10.0000, HTSUSA, which provides for worked ivory and articles of ivory. The rate of duty is 35 percent ad valorem since they are a product of Russia.


John Durant, Director
Commercial Rulings Division

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