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HQ 965028

July 10, 2001

CLA-2 RR:CR:GC 965028 BJB

TARIFF NO.: 3926.10.00, 9017.80.00

Mr. John Colomaio
Trans-Border Customs Services, Inc.
625 Delaware Avenue, Suite 210
Buffalo, NY 14202

RE: Geoboard; Teaching aids; Student geometry and manipulative kit; Modification of NY F83529 and F83541.

Dear Mr. Colomaio:

This is in reference to NY Rulings F83529 and F83541, which the Director of Customs National Commodity Specialist Division, New York, issued to you on March 24, and 29, 2000, respectively, on behalf of Instructional Materials Group, LLC. These rulings concerned the classification, under the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS), of teaching aids and manipulatives, including articles referred to as “geoboards.”

We have reviewed the decisions in NY F83529 and NY F83541, and have determined that the classifications of the geoboards, are in error. This ruling modifies NY F83529 and NY F83541, with respect to geoboards, and sets forth the correct classification.

Pursuant to section 625(c)(1), Tariff Act of 1930 (19 U.S.C. 1625(c)(1)), as amended by section 623 of Title VI, (Customs Modernization) of the North American Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act, Pub. L. 103-182, 107 Stat. 2057 (1993), a notice of proposed modification was published on June 6, 2001, in the Customs Bulletin, Volume 35, Number 23, proposing to modify NY F83529, dated March 24, 2000, and NY F83541, dated March 29, 2000, and to revoke the tariff treatment pertaining to the tariff classification of a teaching aid known as a “geoboard.” The only comment received in response to this notice was from Instructional Materials Group and was opposed to the modification.


The merchandise consists of a square board made of polystyrene packaged together with a set of 25 rubber bands in two different sizes and five different colors in a heat-sealed plastic bag. The boards come in varying dimensions, e.g., in NY F83529: sample 4 is a 6-inch translucent square, and
sample 5 is a 7 and 1/4-inch opaque square of polystyrene plastic. Some geoboards are translucent for use on an overhead projector in a classroom setting, and some are opaque, and would not be conducive for use on an overhead projector, but individually by a student or in a tutorial situation.

Each geoboard is molded on one side to incorporate 25 projections or “pegs” on one surface, forming a 5 by 5 peg grid. Each peg is identified with a letter of the alphabet molded next to it. Both the horizontal and vertical peg columns are labeled with molded numbers from 1 to 5, intended for use to show coordinate axes. The rubber bands are placed around the pegs to form different geometric shapes. Sample 5 in NY F83529, has an additional 12 pegs on its reverse side that may be used to form a circle, 4 pegs to form a square around the circle, and a peg in the middle of the circle. The pegs in the circular array are spaced at 30 degree intervals.

In NY rulings F83529 and F83541, the geoboards were classified under heading 9023, HTSUS, which provides for “[i]nstruments, apparatus and models, designed for demonstrational purposes (for example, in education or exhibitions), unsuitable for other uses, and parts and accessories thereof[.]”


Whether the plastic polystyrene geoboard is classifiable under heading 9023, HTSUS, as “[i]nstruments, apparatus and models, designed for demonstrational purposes (for example, in education or exhibitions), unsuitable for other uses, and parts and accessories thereof[,]” or pursuant to another heading under the HTSUS.


Classification of merchandise under the HTSUS is in accordance with the General Rules of Interpretation (GRIs). Under General Rule of Interpretation (GRI) 1, HTSUS, goods are to be classified according to the terms of the headings and any relative section or chapter notes, and provided the headings or notes do not require otherwise, according to GRIs 2 through 6.

In understanding the language of the HTSUS, the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System Explanatory Notes may be utilized. The Explanatory Notes (ENs), although not dispositive or legally binding, provide a commentary on the scope of each heading of the HTSUS, and are generally indicative of the proper interpretation of these headings. Customs believes the ENs should always be consulted. See T.D. 98-80, 54 Fed. Reg. 35127, 35128 (Aug. 23, 1989).

The HTSUS provisions under consideration are as follows:

Other plates, sheets, film, foil and strip, of plastics, non-cellular and not reinforced, laminated, supported or similarly combined with other materials.

3920.10.00 Of polymers of ethylene

3920.30.00 Of polymers of styrene

Other articles of plastics and articles of other materials of headings 3901 to 3914:

3926.10.00 Office or school supplies

Drawing, marking-out or mathematical calculating instruments (for example, drafting machines, pantographs, protractors, drawing sets, slide rules, disc calculators); instruments for measuring length, for use in the hand (for example, measuring rods and tapes, micrometers, calipers), not specified or included elsewhere in this chapter; parts and accessories thereof:

Other instruments

9023 Instruments, apparatus and models, designed for demonstrational purposes (for example, in education or exhibitions), unsuitable for other uses, and parts and accessories thereof .:

Note 2(r), Chapter 39, HTSUS, states that the chapter does not cover: “[a]rticles of chapter 90 (for example, optical elements, spectacle frames, drawing instruments)[.]” Therefore, if the “geoboards” are goods classifiable under heading 9023, they cannot be classifiable under headings 3920 or 3926, HTSUS.

The ENs to heading 9023, provide a list of eleven examples of instruments, apparatus and models designed for demonstrational purposes. All of the examples provided are complex and sophisticated articles, including “(1) [s]pecial demonstrational machines or appliances . . . , (3) [t]raining dummies, constituting an inflatable life-size model of the human body with artificial respiratory parts reproducing those of a human being, (6) [m]odels, etc., for artillery training, used in training courses held indoors, and (11) [m]ilitary tank simulators which are used for the training . . . of tank drivers.”

“Geoboards” are used as instructional aids to teach mathematical and geometry concepts. Although geometry is a facet of mathematics, and mathematical principles are often complex, neither the single-sided geoboard, nor its double-sided version, rise to the level of complexity or sophistication exhibited by the examples provided in the ENs to heading 9023. While examples of models are provided in the ENs, the term “model” is not defined in the section or chapter notes or in the ENs for heading 9023.

In the absence of a contrary legislative intent, tariff terms that are not defined in an HTSUS section or chapter note, or clearly described in an EN, are construed in accordance with their common and commercial meanings, which are presumed to be the same. Nippon Kogasku (USA) Inc. v. United States, 69 CCPA 89, 673 F.2d 380 (1982). Dictionaries, scientific authorities and other reliable lexicographic sources are often consulted; and, where the term under consideration is technical in nature, appropriate technical sources of information should be consulted. C.J. Tower & Sons v. United States, 69 CCPA 128, 673 F.2d 1268 (1982).

In this case, a typical definition of the term “model” is “a small copy or imitation of an existing object, as a ship, building, etc., made to scale;” “a preliminary representation of something, serving as the plan from which the final, usually larger, object is to be constructed;” or “a hypothetical description, often based on an analogy, used in analyzing or explaining something . . ..” (Webster’s New World Dictionary, 3rd College Ed., 1988, p. 871.) These definitions support the proposition that a “model” involves an intricate structure, or is a representation of a complex hypothetical or other difficult concept otherwise too complex to understand by mere explanation, analogy, or simple analysis. Showing two-dimensional shapes by hooking rubber bands to a series of small plastic pegs, on a square of plastic is not a complicated task, an intricate imitation, or a sophisticated procedure. The presentation of simple geometric shapes on the subject geoboard is fleeting and non-permanent at best.

In NY F83529, Customs determined that a geoboard may be used to demonstrate, “perimeter, area, radius, and diameter,” “congruence and symetry.” However, these are not sophisticated concepts. Further, radius and diameter may only be measured on the dual peg-sided models. On the single peg-sided geoboard, no circle of pegs is available on the reverse side, thus, radius, circumference, and diameter may not be measured where no circle can be formed. Moreover, representations of geometric forms and discussions of “perimeter, area, radius, and diameter,” may only easily be performed in relative terms (e.g., in terms of the number of pegs’ distance around a figure). Using a tape measure or ruler, it is difficult to determine linear measurements from peg to peg, because the pegs are round. Thus, even once a decision is made as to whether one should measure from the forward or back edge of one peg to the next, or from the midpoint of a peg head to the midpoint of another, the distances measured are non-uniform, in fractions of inches, and are not easily added together. The determination of perimeter and area measurements therefore, are particularly difficult to ascertain. The demonstration of geometric shapes may be more easily shown and measured on a chalkboard or on individual sheets of graph paper.

The geoboards without the rubber bands are further limited in use as a model or demonstrator apparatus. A student armed with a simple sheet of graph paper and a pencil has a more enduring and accurate method for forming and measuring geometric shapes. The geometric forms created using rubber bands hooked around geoboard pegs also appear less sophisticated (only two-dimensional), and are less permanent, than a collection of individual plastic geometric shapes used for the same purposes.

Geoboards are advertised on commercial and non-commercial math study websites on the Internet. In some cases, parents and teachers are urged to construct their own geoboards for use at home, or in the classroom, reflecting the simplicity of the geoboard’s concept and construction. These articles are not limited in their use as a teacher’s instructional aid solely suitable on an overhead projector in the classroom, but may be used at home, as a supplementary study aid.

With respect to the potential applicability of heading 3920, HTSUS, Note 10, Chapter 39, states that, “[i]n headings 3920 and 3921, the expression “plates, sheets, film, foil and strip” applies only to plates, sheets, film, foil and strip (other than those of Chapter 54) and to blocks of regular geometric shape, whether or not printed or otherwise surface-worked, uncut or cut into rectangles (including squares) but not further worked (even if when so cut they become articles ready for use).” Sample 4 in NY F83529 has a further raised edge in addition to the pegs on one side. Sample 5, in the same ruling, has pegs on both sides. Although the geoboards are square or rectangular in silhouette, they are not flat, or uniformly rectangular or square in their entirety, or in block form.

The ENs to heading 3920, HTSUS, in pertinent part state, “[a]ccording to Note 10 to this Chapter, the expression “plates, sheets, film, foil and strip” applies only to plates, sheets, film, foil and strip and to blocks of regular geometric shape, whether or not printed or otherwise surface-worked (for example, polished, embossed, coloured, merely curved or corrugated), uncut or cut into rectangles (including squares) but not further worked (even if when so cut they become articles ready for use, for example, tablecloths). The edging and pegs that appear on the geoboards may be added during the molding process, but they do change, and are meant to fundamentally change the very nature of the geoboard. Although “[p]lates, sheets, etc., whether or not surface-worked (including squares and other rectangles cut therefrom), with ground edges, drilled, milled, hemmed, twisted, framed or otherwise worked or cut into shapes other than rectangular (including square) are generally classified as articles of headings 39.18, 39.19 or 39.22 to 39.26[,]” (EN 39.20, p. 619), these articles may not qualify as being “further worked,” but do not retain their essentially flat shape and are thus, classifiable under heading 3926, HTSUS.

The ENs to heading 3926, HTSUS, emphasize in pertinent part, that heading 3926 only covers “articles, not elsewhere specified or included, of plastics (as defined in Note 1 to the Chapter [39]) or of other materials of headings 39.01 to 39.14.” Insofar as geoboards are not provided for under headings 9023 or 3920, HTSUS, they are classifiable under the more general “basket provision” of heading 3926, HTSUS, as “[o]ther articles of plastics . . ..”

In NY F83529, the subject geoboards were individually the subject of a tariff ruling request, and thus, each article was separately classified. However, in NY F83541, the tariff ruling request was for a “student manipulative kit” that includes a geoboard. Customs found that the “student manipulative kit,” and its several components, were classifiable under heading 9017, HTSUS, pursuant to an “essential character” analysis at GRI 3(b). Customs further concluded that per Explanatory Note II to GRI 3, the geoboards were not classifiable under heading 9017, HTSUS, insofar as the terms of heading 9023, HTSUS, “otherwise require[d].” However, we have now determined that none of the geoboards demonstrate the degree of sophistication reflected by the models, appliances, or apparatus described in the ENs to heading 9023, HTSUS.

The comment received in response to the proposed modification of NY F83529 and NY F83541, (Proposed Modification of Ruling Letters and Revocation of Treatment Relating to Tariff Classification of Certain Mathematical Teaching Aids, Customs Bulletin, published June 6, 2001, Volume 35, Number 23) argued that a geoboard was: (1) an apparatus designed for educational demonstrational purposes; (2) unsuitable for any other use, other than as an educational demonstrational aid; and (3) reflective of the level of complexity and sophistication provided by at least one specific example, “Newton’s Disc,” described in EN 9023 (1). The first two points of the comment are addressed above (see discussion of “geoboards as instructional aid”). We note that although the asserted purpose of the geoboard is “demonstrational,” it is clear that not every article or apparatus, whether or not it may be demonstrational of a rudimentary geometric or mathematical concept, constitutes an “instrument, apparatus, and model” as provided for in heading 9023, HTSUS, or is unsuitable for any other use than in a school instructional setting. The ENs to heading 9023, HTSUS, state that the heading excludes: “(a) printed plans, diagrams, illustrations, etc., even if designed for use in teaching, advertising, etc.”

The “Newton Disc” the commenter compares to the subject geoboards, is referred to in EN 9023 (1). A Newton Disc describes a part of a mechanical demonstrational apparatus used by Sir Isaac Newton to demonstrate the recomposition of white light from the colors of the spectrum. Newton’s apparatus was based upon scientific theory and mathematic computations, far more complex that those used in placing rubber bands on the pegs of a geoboard. Inter alia, that the recomposition of white light from the spectral colors is only possible with the persistence of vision, i.e., that the image of a color produced on the retina may only be retained for a fraction of a second. Thus, if the disc is rotated fast enough, the image of one color is still present on the retina when the image of the next color is formed. Therefore, when the brain sums up and blends together, the rapidly changing colored images on the retina, the effect of a white image is produced. However, the disc must be divided into 7 precisely measured segments, and the segments must be colored in a specific sequence in a clockwise direction. The colors on Newton’s disc must be permanently affixed in order for it to function properly. The geometric shapes formed with rubber bands on a geoboard are not permanent, are two dimensional, and fail to demonstrate any sophisticated, scientific, or visual phenomenon that couldn’t be easily demonstrated on a chalk board or with paper and pencil. The fact that the pegs are located at incongruently measured distances makes it difficult for students to use them for their central purpose, for measuring perimeters.

While Newton’s color disc is also a convenient way to summarize the additive mixing properties of colors, the colors must be placed on the circle in order of the wavelengths of the corresponding spectral colors. The permanent and structured placement of the colors on a disc is a carefully calculated process wherein the properties of color distinguishable to the human eye, including hue, saturation, and brightness must be considered. Further, while the placement of most colored objects gives off a range of wavelengths that might affect color, the characterization of color is much more than a limited statement of wavelength. Therefore Newton’s color disc is more complex than the two dimensional placement of rubber bands on a geoboard used to diagram geometric shapes.

Moreover, the language of EN 9023(1) provides for “[s]pecial demonstrational machines or appliances[,]” not just parts. EN 9023(1) provides examples, “such as the Wimshurst machine (for experiments with electricity), the Atwood machine (for demonstrating the law of gravity), Magdeburg hemispheres (for demonstrating the effects of atmospheric pressure), the ‘s Gravesande ring (for demonstrating thermal expansion), Newton’s disc (for demonstrating the colour composition of white light).” Thus, EN 9023(1) refers to special machines or appliances, as functional, demonstrational apparatus, not merely an individual part of such an apparatus, unless as in the case of Newton’s disc, the intended part is a functional part of a demonstrational configuration or apparatus used for demonstrating a complex theory or principle. A number of examples available on the Internet demonstrate what the commenter’s Newton disc instructions confirm, that the disc will work only if it is spun at a sufficient speed. Thus, the Newton disc is generally part of an entire apparatus inclusive of a motor or system of pulleys that enable the disc to be spun rapidly enough to achieve the desired result described in EN 9023(1), “for demonstrating the colour composition of white light.” The geoboard, even with geobands, does not rise to the level and complexity of design of an authentic Newton’s disc.

Thus, it is significant that the printed instructions accompanying the commenter’s color disc state, in bold lettering: “Materials Needed, [but] Not Included: 1 Power Supply[,] 1 Standard Rotor Spindle [,] 1 pencil[,]” and recognize that a spindle must be attached to a motor, the color disc placed on the spindle, the motor connected to the power supply or pulley system and the power turned on, to achieve the requisite speed necessary for the recomposition of the white color. Although the commenter suggests that the disc may be placed on a pencil inserted through the center hole, and spun with the yellow cap placed on the pencil point, the desired transformation from multiple colors to white was not achieved when this was repeatedly tried.

Further, a Newton color disc’s sophistication appears to be reflected in its general pricing: one is sold for approximately $16.00, (item#65601), while a one-sided geoboard may be purchased for less than $4.00, and even a two-sided geoboard is available at half the disc’s price, at approximately $8.00. We find that geoboards are individually classifiable under heading 3926, HTSUS, which provides for “[o]ther articles of plastics[.]” Insofar as the geoboard in NY F83541 is a component of a “student manipulative kit,” the GRI 3(b) “essential character analysis” must be applied. In NY F83541, Customs found that the “essential character” of the kit was determined by the following articles: the “60 inch – 150 centimeter flexible tape measure, the plastic protractor, and the combination 4 inch – 11 centimeter plastic ruler-protractor. Thus, the “student manipulative kit” and its components were classifiable under heading 9017, HTSUS, which provides for ”. . . instruments for measuring length, for use in the hand[.]” Used for representation of comparative dimensions of geometric shapes and measuring their perimeter, area, radius, and diameter, geoboards are used as a type of an educational measuring aid. Inclusion of a geoboard, individually classifiable in subheading 3926.10.00, HTSUS, in the “student manipulative kit,” does not alter the “essential character” of the kit, but rather serves to further its “essential character.” Thus, at GRI 3(b), the “student manipulative kit” in NY F83541, inclusive of a geoboard and its rubber bands, remains classifiable at subheading 9017.80.00, HTSUS, which provides for, “instruments for measuring length, for use in the hand . . .: Other instruments[.]”


Under the authority of GRI 1, HTSUS, applied to the subheading level by GRI 6, HTSUS, the geoboards in NY F83529 are classifiable under subheading 3926.10.00, HTSUS, as an “[o]ther articles of plastics and articles of other materials of headings 3901 to 3914: Office or school supplies[.]” In NY F83541, the geoboard, which is one part of a “student manipulative kit,” is no longer excluded from the “essential character analysis” at GRI 3(b), and is therefore classifiable under subheading 9017.80.00, HTSUS, which provides for “[d]rawing, marking-out or mathematical calculating instruments (for example, drafting machines, pantographs, protractors, drawing sets, slide rules, disc calculators); instruments for measuring length, for use in the hand (for example, measuring rods and tapes, micrometers, calipers), not specified or included elsewhere in this chapter; parts and accessories thereof: Other instruments[.]”


NY F83529, dated March 24, 2000, and NY F83541, dated March 29, 2000, are hereby modified with respect to the classification of “geoboards” as set forth herein. The classification of the other articles is not affected by this ruling. In accordance with 19 U.S.C. 1625(c) this ruling will become effective 60 days after its publication in the Customs Bulletin.


John Durant, Director
Commercial Rulings Division

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