One day last week a man in Ottawa whose marital relations were not of the most pleasant kind resolved to save the expense of an Act of Parliament to sever the marriage tie and sold his wife to a young man in the Pontiac for ten dollars. Now the purchaser has been advised that he is heir to several thousand dollars in England. Moral: Purchase a wife if you want a fortune.
The English custom of wife selling largely began in the late 17th century when divorce was a practical impossibility for all but the very wealthy. In the ritualized form, after parading his wife with a halter around her neck, arm, or waist, a husband would publicly auction her to the highest bidder. Although the custom had no basis in law and frequently resulted in prosecution, particularly from the mid-19th century onwards, the attitude of the authorities was equivocal.
At least one early 19th-century magistrate is on record as stating that he did not believe he had the right to prevent wife sales, and there were cases of local Poor Law Commissioners forcing husbands to sell their wives, rather than having to maintain the family in workhouses. The English custom of wife selling spread to Wales, Scotland, Australia, and the United States before dying out in the early 20th century.
Paint Your Wagon was reality!