What’s the going rate for selling your wife?

When it all gets too much with your wife and  you can’t take any more, in the 18th century it was easy to get rid of her.  So, how much was she worth?  Well, read on to find out.  Oh, sorry, you couldn’t sell your husband though!

Just to help you work out how much a woman was worth, 1 shilling was equal to about £3.00 in today’s money, 6 pence, about £2.00 and a guinea was worth around £70.00! Reading through these you realize that if you could get your wife to Smithfield Market and sell her there you would walk away far wealthier than trying to sell her locally.

World, Saturday, June 21, 1788

Not many days since a man publicly sold his wife for 12 shillings. In the payment he had insisted in having new shillings as he had never had had anything but what was bad in exchange for her and therefore must take more care.

Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, Friday, September 4, 1789

Bath

On Thursday last at Yarlington fair, in this county, Ann Atwell wife of William Atwell was sold for five shillings to Thomas Wadman. The woman was delivered, as is customary with a large cord. He had promised her good keeping and six pence was paid in earnest.

World, Tuesday, September 22, 1789

A man of the name John Petts lately sold his wife and three children for two shillings and six pence. He shewed her by leading her up and down the road in a halter in which she was delivered up to her new purchaser. She was thought to be no bargain.

World , Friday, November 12, 1790

A man at Nimfield stocks in Sussex  last week sold his wife to another man of the same place for half a pint of gin; the purchaser being in liquor at the time the bargain was concluded, the seller in order that he should not complain of any unfair advantage having been taken of him took his dear spouse to bed and board until the next morning when the buyer attended and claimed his lady who was delivered by the husband in due form, having a halter round her neck, and two witnesses being present.  The woman appeared overjoyed at the change, nor did the man seem less happy at their lots.

Oracle and Public Advertiser, Thursday, March 31, 1796

On Saturday evening last John Lees, steel burner, sold his wife for the sum of 6 shillings to Samuel Hall, fellmonger, both of Sheffield. Lees gave Hall one guinea immediately to have her taken off to Manchester the day following by coach. She was delivered up with a halter round her neck and the clerk of the market received 4 pence for the toll.

Oracle and Public Advertiser, Tuesday, July 18, 1797

Smithfield Market.  Another anti-matrimonial bargain has taken place in this mart of living stock. But whatever may be the cause, the fact is that the price of ladies has risen here; a man sold his wife yesterday for three guineas and a half.

Oracle and Public Advertiser, Saturday, September 23, 1797

The price of wives is no longer regulated by what the article brings to Smithfield. It has advanced considerably more than it was some months ago; for last week a wife sold for twenty five pounds at Towcester.

Bell’s Weekly Messenger, Sunday, January 25, 1801

Lawrence Stephen of West Luton in the East Riding of York sold his wife Jane to William Servant of Hovingham for five shillings, who returned two shilling and six pence to the purchaser in open market at New Malton on Saturday night and delivered in a halter on Monday at the Market Cross there.

Who wants a wife?
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
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10 thoughts on “What’s the going rate for selling your wife?

  1. Poor lady who was sold as ‘no bargain’, or was is worse to be sold for gin? It was more common than you think wasn’t it, although I am pleased to see that at least one woman was over joyed with the exchange! Just a pity it didn’t apply to husbands… typical!

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    1. All Things Georgian

      Not sure we’d be happy to be given the same value as a bottle of gin! Sadly, women were regarded as ‘commodities’ but if anyone finds a husband being sold we’d love to hear about it 🙂

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  2. Nancy

    Many think that the purchaser and the seller made a previous agreement about the transactions and that often the wife was already having sex with the purchaser. Of course,this was not a legal divorce or separation and if any one tried to marry in a church they would be bigamists. This was a lower class way of getting out of a disappointing union– but it was neither legal nor sanctioned by church or court. If the woman was left destitute with children, the parish tried to send her back to the first husband so they wouldn’t have to support her..

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    1. All Things Georgian

      Many thanks for your response and you’re quite correct, it would not have been legal, but from the newspapers it appears to be more common place than we had at first imagined. 🙂

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      1. Nancy

        I don’t have the statistics to hand but I think someone said that wife sales were more prevalent in the 18th century than in the 19th; that they were reported in the newspapers when known because it was an oddity, and that there probably were about the same number of wife sales as parliamentary divorces.
        The sale complete with a bill of sale was supposed to free them of the marriage. Others who knew better or didn’t want the publicity just made the exchange quietly. Those of the highest and the lowest social rungs were equally disdainful of rules.

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      2. All Things Georgian

        It would appear from our research that there were more in the 18th century and yes agreed, that fact they warranted a mention in the newspapers meant that they were somewhat unusual. We’d still like to find a woman selling her husband, but that’s not likely to happen! 😦

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  3. Fascinating… I’ve been doing undergrad research on the novel Pamela from 1740, and threats of selling Pamela happen two or three times. Research into 18th-century family structures indicated that yeah, wives might be sold for as little as a penny if there was an agreement between the two men… In this case, one would force her into marriage then sell her to the other one. The difficulty comes in trying to figure it what the thought process was — divorce/semi-legal transition to one’s lover? Women just being treated as possessions? Were the reports bordering on satirical? Weird stuff.

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    1. All Things Georgian

      Hi Hannah, thank you so much for your comments. By today’s standards we find it difficult to believe that it actually happened, but seemingly it did. Women’s ‘financial worth’ when you convert it into today’s money was extremely low, more akin to a token payment. 🙂

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