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


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