Within the last twenty years there have been at least a dozen cases reported in the press of men in a low station in life who have sold their wives, under the impression they could legally do so if all parties were willing. One husband parted with his spouse for eighteen pence and a glass of beer. He was evidently in need of a new system of values, as well as some elementary instruction on the marriage law. But Brand, writing in 1808, remarks:--"A remarkable superstition still prevails among the lowest of our vulgar, that a man may lawfully sell his wife to another, provided he deliver her over with a halter about her neck. It is painful to observe that instances of this occur frequently in our newspapers."
In modern transfers, the scene being the bar of a public-house, the halter is missing, and a few coins take its place. But the origin of the custom can only have originated in methods of marriage without the sanction of priest or civil ceremony; the result being that, as the man does the marrying himself, he concludes he is the sole contracting party, able at will to dispose of his wife as he thinks fit.