I just discovered this most-excellent web site: Webster's Knitting Needle Notions: a Site Devoted to the Humble Knitting Needle.
Susan Webster is a knitting needle bloodhound (like me) and her collection of old knitting needles is amazing. In the history of the knitting needle, she gives a chronology from the early Christian era through the 1980's that is really quite astonishing. I am very glad to have her web site to refer to! There is still a lot of early history left to find, however. The "knitting madonnas" pictured in the 12th century paintings (there's a set of pictures on Flickr) show them knitting baby shirts and extremely detailed, muticolored socks; I don't think they simply sprang from their foreheads with knitting knowledge like that. There must have been a few years of trying to figure out this knitting thing. We still haven't found any knitting extant, or needles either, but that is probably because they decayed, being made of things that nature loves to reclaim. Dust to dust is for more than just us humans, you know.
There are three .pdf's of every needle she has encountered. It's fascinating to look through. It is organized by the maker's name, if known.
Webster has a section of "Orphans", needles she has not yet found anything about. Go look and see what you can see. I found several needles that were similar to some of my collection, but beyond "they came from a collection of needles I found on ebay", I couldn't be of much help. But, I am glad someone's out there hunting!
I don't know if she's still compiling more stuff, or if this is a dead web site, but I am glad I found it.