November 30, 1989
Your client, (the Taxpayer), is a professional taxidermist licensed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. On behalf of the Taxpayer, you have requested a ruling determining whether the Taxpayer's taxidermy charges are subject to the sales tax. We find that charges for taxidermy are taxable as consideration for fabricating tangible personal property. See G.L. c. 64H, §§ 1(12)(b), 2; 830 CMR 64H.1.1(3).
Customers bring the carcasses of animals and fish to the Taxpayer for mounting. The steps involved in taxidermy of fish vary somewhat from those used with mammals. In general, however, the Taxpayer skins the carcass, preserves the skin, and mounts it on a manikin.
The Taxpayer purchases the manikins he uses, but primes and levels the forms himself before mounting skins on them. The cost of the manikin is a small part of the sales price for a mounted animal. The Taxpayer does not separately state the cost of the manikin on his bill to the customer.
The Massachusetts General Laws impose a tax upon retail sales of tangible personal property in the Commonwealth. G.L. c. 64H, § 2. The term "retail sale" does not include personal service transactions that involve no sale or that involve sales as inconsequential elements for which no separate charges are made. Id. at § 1(13)(c). A service transaction involving no sale or an inconsequential sale not separately stated is exempt from sales tax only where the real object of the transaction is the service itself. 830 CMR 64H.1.1(2)(a); see Houghton Mifflin Co. v. State Tax Comm'n, 373 Mass. 772, 774-75 (1977) (test is object of transaction).
You contend that taxidermy is a personal service transaction. You maintain that because the customer already owns the animal carcass, the object of the transaction is the Taxpayer's service. You further state that the cost of the manikin, the only property transferred in the transaction, is a small part of the Taxpayer's charges, and is not separately stated on the bill to the customer.
The fact that the customer already owns the animal carcass to be preserved and mounted, however, does not necessarily establish that taxidermy is not subject to the sales tax. The General Laws define the term "sale" to include the fabrication or processing of tangible personal property furnished by the customer. G.L. c. 64H, § 1(12)(b). A fabrication is "[a]ny change in the form or substance of tangible personal property, or any substantial alteration in the form or shape of an existing article of tangible personal property where either party to the transaction furnishes the material." 830 CMR 64H.1.1(3). The reupholstering of furniture is a fabrication, subject to the sales tax. Id.; id. at (5)(e).
Taxidermy is "the practice of creating lifelike representations of animals ... by the use of their prepared skins and various supporting structures." 11 New Encyclopaedia Britannica 585 (15th ed. 1985). By processing and preserving an animal's skin and mounting it on a form, a taxidermist changes the form and substance of an animal carcass into a realistic model of an animal. We consider taxidermy to be analogous to the reupholstering of furniture. Instead of putting a new covering on the existing form of an armchair, the taxidermist puts an existing skin of an animal on a new structure. Although the preparatory steps of skinning and processing skins are not closely analogous to reupholstery, they contribute to the change in the form and substance of the material provided by the customer.
Like reupholstering, taxidermy is a fabrication. The sales tax applies to the total amount the taxidermist charges the customer, whether or not the taxidermist states charges for materials and labor separately in the bill. See 830 CMR 64H.1.1(5)(e).
Very truly yours,
/s/Stephen W. Kidder
Stephen W. Kidder
Commissioner of Revenue