The first six runes of the pin's inscription are the first six letters of the runic alphabet, spelling "FUTHORK": Fehu (F), Uruz (U), Thurisaz (Th), Os (long O), Raido (R), Kauno (K). This is also the name by which the runic alphabet is known. The inscription of these six runes is often used as a formula to invoke rune magic on small objects. On larger objects the full Futhork is inscribed, such as on the Thames scramasax or short sword (see below).
The last five runes on the above pin spell "GLAYE": Gebo (G), Laguz (L), Ansuz (A), As (dipthong AE, also pronounced Y in Yorkshire/Durham dialect), and Ehwaz (E, pronounced UH in the same dialect). Glaye is the dialect variant of the Anglo-Saxon word, Gleaw, meaning quick-witted, wise, prudent or skilful.
The runic alphabet was established in Britain during the Anglo-Saxon invasions in the 5th Century A.D. Based on early Mediterranean alphabets, the Anglo-Saxon Futhork developed from the older 24 character alphabet into one of 28 characters.
Inscriptions, such as on the pin above, containing the letters of the "Futhork" are extremely rare and the only other English examples include another late 8th/early 9th Century A.D. disc-headed pin brooch found near the River Ouse at Brandon, Suffolk, and the Thames scramasax. Cf. L. Webster and J. Backhouse, The Making of England: Anglo-Saxon Art and Culture AD 600-900, The British Museum, London, 1991, pp. 82-83, no. 66b for the Brandon pin. The runic inscription on the late 9th Century A.D. Thames scramasax, has also been suggested to have a magical function, bringing protection to the sword's owner. The full 28 letter Futhork can be seen on this example as well as 'Beagnop' perhaps the name of the owner of the sword. Cf. D. M. Wilson, Anglo-Saxon Ornamental Metalwork 700-1100 in the British Museum, London, 1964, pp. 67ff and pp. 144-146, no. 36, pl. XIX,22, for a discussion by R. I. Page of the runic inscriptions on the Thames scramasax.
The pierced hole on the right hand side edge of the above pin suggests that it was once part of a linked pair or even a linked triple-set. The Brandon pin also has a hole on the edge for possible similar usage. Cf. The Making of England, op. cit, pp. 227-228, no. 184 for an example of a well-preserved late 8th Century A.D. Anglo-Saxon triple pin set.
We are grateful to Bob Oswald for his research and translation of the runic inscription.