Decades ago, when J. R. R. Tolkien wrote his fantasy book series; "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings", he described races of Elves, Dwarves and Men possessing a rich history, language and culture. Early in their history they devised alphabets for writing their languages. One of the earliest was written with pens or brushes. It was called the Tengwar. The Tengwar were a very flexible writing system that was easily adapted by the many different races of Middle-earth for use with their languages. The only shortcoming of the Tengwar was that it was difficult to be used for inscribing onto metal, stone or wood.
For information on Tengwar, see this link: [link]
During the First Age, Elvish craftsmen in Beleriand began developing an informal alphabet for use with their Sindarin language. This alphabet became known as the Cirth (meaning: "runes"). The Cirth letters were almost entirely made from straight lines that could be easily engraved onto hard surfaces. The Elves used the Cirth exclusively for carved inscriptions. The Cirth alphabet in Middle-earth fulfills the same role as Germanic, Norse and Anglo-Saxon runes in our history.
This image shows all four rune systems used by Tolkien.
Towards the end of the First Age in Beleriand, Daeron, the Minstrel and Loremaster of King Thingol of Doriath, organized the Cirth into what became known as the Angerthas Daeron. Daeron's alphabet was originally used by the Grey Elves (Sindar) in Beleriand. Later the Deep Elves (Noldor) in Eregion adopted the Cirth and added several more runes to the system. These additional letters were used to represent sounds not found in the Elvish Sindarin, but in the tongues of the other people living in the area. The Angerthas Daeron was used primarily for carved inscriptions. For most other forms of written communication the Tengwar were used.
Example: "The Hobbit" - Troll Hoard Sword inscriptions
Note: The "dh" signifies a soft "th" sound, as in the.
During the beginning of the Second Age in Eregion, Dwarves first came to know the Elvish runes of the Noldor. They modified the runes to suit the specific needs of their language, Khuzdul. The Dwarves spread their revised alphabet to Moria, where it came to be known as Angerthas Moria (meaning: "The Long Rune-rows of Moria") . The Dwarves used the runes extensively, and developed both carved and pen-written forms. They spread their alphabet whereever they went through out Middle-earth. Variations of Angerthas Moria were also used by other races for their languages, such as the Mannish tongue Westron.
Example: "The Lord of the Rings" - Balin's Tomb, upper inscription
Notes: The ' symbol represents a glottal stop sound. Note the stressed and unstressed schwa sound (upside down e's).
At the beginning of the Third Age, the Dwarves were driven out of Moria. Some migrated to the Grey Mountains, some to the Iron Hills, and some came to Lonely Mountain (or Erebor). The Dwarves in Erebor modified the Cirth even more. Several letters reverted back to the original Angerthas Daeron phonetic value. They also added a number of extra characters.
Examples: "The Lord of the Rings" - Title Page - upper inscription
and "The Lord of the Rings" - Balin's Tomb - lower inscription
Note: As with Angerthas Moria, note the stressed and unstressed schwa sound (upside down e's).
In the Hobbit, the runes which appear on Thrain's map of Lonely Mountain are Anglo/Saxon, not Cirth/Anderthas. It's thought that Tolkien planned for the Dwarves to use a Runic alphabet unique to Middle-earth, but when "The Hobbit" was written (in 1937), he had not yet invented the Elvish Angerthas/Cirth Runic alphabet that the Dwarves would eventually come to use. Anglo/Saxon Runes were also used to write the inscriptions on the cover of the Houghton Mifflin hardcover Collector’s Edition, 1973. (ISBN: 0395177111). (I only know that because I proudly own it).
"The Hobbit" by J. R. R. Tolkien
"The Lord of the Rings" by J. R. R. Tolkien
Volume III, "The Return of the King", Appendix E
"The History of Middle-earth" edited by Christopher Tolkien
Volume VII, "The Treason of Isengard", Appendix on Runes