Walter Thornhill assumed control of Thornhill & Co, a well appointed firm of 18th century Cutlers (established in 1734 by James Gibbes), in 1850/51. The subsequent year Walter registered the business at its premises, 144 New Bond Street. Thornhill's excelled in the manufacture of fancy goods, including writing cases and dressing cases, beautifully crafted curios and games, which were well received at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and throughout the second half of 19th century. In 1875 the firm was known as Walter Thornhill & Co. and it continued to flourish. Reviews in the fashionable ladies periodical The Queen, excitedly praised Thornhill's 1877 catalogue for its 'Novelties in Knick nacks' goods, and made a refer to the 'mouse jewellery'.
The manufacture of many of the items was commissioned from specialist artisans, especially the work in silver. It is likely that the carved ivory characters of this chess set were commissioned from abroad, and records mention that Thornhill's had a relationship with German manufacturers. At this time Eberbach was a centre of ivory carving, a craft industry rooted in the 17th century and flourishing in the middle of the 19th century. The stamped lock is the mark of the well-known fancy goods dress case maker, Betjamann & Son, originally listed in 1851, who was joined by his two sons in 1859. The firm was described as 'Dressing case makers, mediaeval and antique mounters'. They supplied a large number of the retail houses.
See John Culme. The Directory of Gold & Silversmiths Jewellers & Allied Traders 1838-1914 From the London Assay Office Registers Volume 1, Antique Collectors' Club