United States International Trade Commision Rulings And Harmonized Tariff Schedule
faqs.org  Rulings By Number  Rulings By Category  Tariff Numbers
faqs.org > Rulings and Tariffs Home > Rulings By Number > 1991 HQ Rulings > HQ 0088313 - HQ 0088380 > HQ 0088323

Previous Ruling Next Ruling

HQ 088323

June 7, 1991

CLA-2 CO:R:C:F 088323 STB


TARIFF NO.: 9017.20.8000, 3923.10.0000

Mr. Jeremy R. Page
Katten, Muchin & Zavis
525 West Monroe Street
Suite 1600
Chicago, Illinois 60606-3693

RE: Pencil Boxes and Geometry Kits

Dear Mr. Page:

This is in response to your letter of October 3, 1990, on behalf of Rolykit Inc., in which you requested a ruling concerning the tariff classification of merchandise described as pencil boxes and geometry kits under the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States Annotated (HTSUSA). Pictures of the merchandise were submitted with your request: an actual sample of the geometry kit was provided to our office at our meeting of February 8, 1991.


The subject merchandise consists of a Rolykit Pencil Box (JS-210), a Rolykit Junior Pencil Box (JS-100) and a Rolykit Geometry Set (JS-270). The merchandise is imported by Rolykit from its parent company in the Netherlands, Rolykit Product Division of Vandermolen bv. The importer states that these items are based on Rolykit's patented storage system whereby the sturdy plastic cases "unfold" to reveal a number of compartments. The case is then "refolded" into a compact case or kit for the storage or transporting of various items. The items which will be enclosed in the cases will vary depending on the particular use for which the entire kit is intended.

The Rolykit Pencil Box contains, and is sold with, eight fiber tipped pens, nine pencils, one ruler and one pencil sharpener. The Junior Pencil Box contains six fiber tipped pens, six pencils, one pencil sharpener and one eraser. The Geometry Set contains one geometric triangle, one compass, one tube of compass leads, one eraser, three lead pencils, one propelling pencil and one fine liner pen.


Whether the geometry set should be classified under subheading 9017.20.8000, HTSUSA, as "other drawing, marking-out or mathematical calculating instruments" or under subheading 3923.10.0000, HTSUSA, as "articles for the conveyance of packing of goods, of plastics...boxes...?"

Whether the pencil boxes and accompanying items should be classified under subheading 9609.10.0000, HTSUSA, as "pencils and crayons..." or under subheading 3923.10.0000, HTSUSA, as "articles for the conveyance of packing of goods, of plastics...boxes...?"


The General Rules of Interpretation (GRI's) set forth the legal framework in which merchandise is to be classified under the HTSUSA. GRI 1 requires that classification be determined first according to the terms of the headings of the tariff and any relative section or chapter notes and, unless otherwise required, according to the remaining GRI's taken in order.

In the case of the instant merchandise, one item, the geometry set, can be classified by reference to GRI 1. Heading 9017, HTSUSA, provides specifically for, among other items, "drawing sets." According to Explanatory Note 9017(A), this chapter includes, in pertinent part, the following:

(A) Drawing Instruments.

(3) Drawing compasses, dividers, reduction compasses, spring bows, mathematical drawing pens, dotting wheels, etc., whether in a case (e.g., drawing sets) or separately.

(5) Protractors, from the ordinary protractors found in drawing sets to the complex protractors as used, for example, in engineering.

In New York Ruling Letter (NYRL) 830304, dated June 17, 1988, Customs issued a ruling that is in accordance with Chapter 9017, HTSUSA, and the above Explanatory Notes and classified
merchandise similar to the geometry set at issue as a "drawing set." The merchandise that was at issue in NYRL 830304 is described by Customs as follows:

The drawing set, sample submitted, consists of a compass, a pencil, a protractor, a six inch ruler, and two triangles. The last four items are all plastic. It is packaged in a flimsy clear plastic triangular container seven inches high with stickers describing the contents as a free style drawing set.

In your letter of February 13, 1991, you contend that the above merchandise can be distinguished from the geometry set now in question because the above merchandise is packaged in a "flimsy" storage container thus providing no possibility that the container in that case could provide the essential character of the set. It is your position that the essential character of the instant geometry set is provided by the container.

We disagree with this analysis. As noted above, the instant geometry set can be classified by reference to GRI 1; it is Customs position that this merchandise is specifically provided for in the HTSUSA. Therefore, we do not reach the discussion of essential character in GRI 3(b); essential character is not an issue in the classification of this merchandise.

The situation is different, however, for the classification of the pencil box and the junior pencil box. Neither of these items is classifiable in any one heading by itself under GRI 1. Therefore, reference to the subsequent GRI's is necessary. GRI 2 is not applicable here. GRI 3, however, is relevant. It provides, in pertinent part:

3. When by application of Rule 2(b) or for any other reason, goods are, prima facie, classifiable under two or more headings, classification shall be effected as follows:

(b) Mixtures, composite goods consisting of different materials or made up of different components, and goods put up in sets for retail sale, which cannot be classified by reference to 3(a), shall be classified as if they consisted of the material or component which gives them their essential character, insofar as this criterion is applicable.

The Explanatory Notes to GRI 3(b) provide guidance for determining what constitutes a "set." Note X states that the term "goods put up in sets for retail sale" shall be taken to mean goods which:

(a) consist of at least two different articles which are, prima facie, classifiable in different headings;

(b) consist of products or articles put up together to meet a particular need or carry out a specific activity; and

(c) are put up in a manner suitable for sale directly to users without repacking (e.g., in boxes or cases or on boards).

The merchandise at issue clearly satisfies the above criteria of a "set." Both pencil boxes contain pencils and a pencil sharpener, which are classifiable in two different headings as well as various other items which are also classifiable in different headings under the HTSUSA. The items are sold together to carry out the specific activity of writing and they are put up in a manner suitable for sale directly to users without repacking.

The next issue to be resolved is which item within the set provides the essential character. Explanatory Note VIII to GRI 3(b) states that:

The factor which determines essential character will vary as between different kinds of goods. It may, for example, be determined by the nature of the material or component, its bulk, quantity, weight or value, or by the role of the constituent material in relation to the use of the goods.

It is our determination that the plastic, compartmentalized box provides the essential character of both of the subject pencil boxes. The boxes involved are of a unique, patented design. The marketing literature of the importer places more emphasis on the boxes than on the items that are included in these boxes. At one point, the literature states as follows:

Millions of people know about the extremely useful storage box: the Rolykit. A unique storing system, which is patented in 36 countries and manufactured in Holland, Japan and the United States of America. Based on Rolykits unique closing mechanism we have developed a totally new product range, the

Rolykit JS-200 series. Aimed at young people between the ages of 6 and 20. The product range consists of a Pencil Box, Paint Box and a Geometry Set.

Thus, the box plays an important role in the use of these kits. It is very probable that these boxes will remain in use long after the pens and pencils that initially accompany them have been used up and need replacement. Additionally, the box provides a majority of the bulk of the kits and a substantial amount of the value. The box accounts for approximately 50% of the cost of the pencil box; all of the other components combined account for the other 50%. The box provides over 50% of the value of all of the junior pencil box components.

The determination that the boxes provide the essential character of these pencil boxes is in accord with the current Customs position. In at least four recent Headquarters Ruling Letters (HRLs), the containers/organizers of various items have been deemed to constitute the essential character of the merchandise. In all of those cases, as occurs with the instant pencil boxes, the containers were constructed of sturdy materials, they were designed specifically and carefully for their particular use, and they provided a substantial portion of the bulk and value of the merchandise. These HRLs are HRL 084715, dated August 24, 1989, HRL 084717, dated September 13, 1989, HRL 083262, dated July 26, 1982 and HRL 085872, dated January 29, 1990.

In contrast are the cases in which Customs has either not discussed the containers or has held that the containers did not constitute the essential character of the merchandise. In most of those cases, the containers were of flimsy construction, such as the various plastic pouch rulings where school supplies are packaged in cheap plastic pouches. One such ruling is HRL 085356, dated November 20, 1989. It is significant that even in that ruling, no items, including the writing instruments, were found to constitute the essential character of the merchandise. In the other few rulings in which the containers were not found to constitute the essential character, the containers involved provided an insignificant portion of the value, and sometimes of the bulk, of the merchandise; the containers seemed to be designed primarily as a cheap packaging item that would be disposed of once the usefulness of the included items had expired, if not before. In such situations GRI 5(b) requires that the packing materials and packing containers be classified along with the goods they contain.


The merchandise identified as a "geometry set" is classified under subheading 9017.20.80, HTSUSA, the provision for "drawing, marking-out or mathematical calculating instruments (for example...drawing sets...other." The applicable duty rate is 5.8% ad valorem.

The merchandise identified as "pencil box" and "junior pencil box" is classified under subheading 3923.10.0000, HTSUSA, the provision for "articles for the conveyance or packing of goods, of plastics...boxes, cases, crates and similar articles." The applicable duty rate is 3% ad valorem.


John Durant, Director

Previous Ruling Next Ruling

See also: