The game show "Sale of the Century" (or "$ale of the Century," as the graphic read at the beginning of the show) premiered on NBC on September 29, 1969, at 11:00 A.M. Eastern time. Three contestants answered questions for various dollar amounts, $5, $10, or $15. At the end of the game, the contestant with the highest total had the opportunity to use their winnings to "purchase" prizes at bargain prices (a $128 grand piano, for example, or a $199 car. The winning contestant could also choose not to buy anything, but instead return on the next show to try to win again and be able to purchase more or better items. During the questioning period, there would occasionally be Instant Bargains, in which the contestant currently in first place had the opportunity to purchase an item; sometimes, the host would drop the price if the contestant didn't bite right away.
Jack Kelly was the original host, replaced by Joe Garagiola in 1971. The show last aired on NBC on July 13, 1973, but went into syndication for the 1973-74 season.
Reg Grundy Productions purchased the rights to "Sale of the Century" in the late 1970s and brought the show to Australia, where it premiered on the Nine Network in 1980, airing weeknights at 7:00, and quickly became extremely popular.
It came back to the United States on January 3, 1983, again on NBC, at 10:30 A.M. Eastern, this time with host Jim Perry accompanied by a female assistant, and with essentially the same rules as the Australian version. The three contestants now started with $20 apiece and received $5 for a correct answer but lost $5 for a wrong answer. The game ended with a 60-second timed round of questions before the winning contestant got to shop for prizes.
In addition to the Instant Bargains, the Fame Game had been added. The host read a long "who am I?"-type question with the most revealing information at the end. The first contestant to correctly buzz in and identify the mystery person picked one of nine celebrities off a board that looked suspiciously like the Nine Network logo. Some of the celebrities' pictures hid prizes, and others hid $10, $15, or $20 dollar values that were added to the contestant's score. The pictures were soon replaced by the numbers 1 through 9.
Later, Instant Cash replaced one of the regular Instant Bargain opportunities; the contestant in the lead could spend the amount of their lead over the second-place contestant to be able to pick which one of three boxes held a cash jackpot. The Fame Game was also changed: the money cards were revealed, and instead of picking a number, the contestant would use their buzzer to stop a randomly flashing light on one of the squares.
The bonus round changed twice during this run of the show. Beginning in 1987, 20 squares hid various prizes and wild cards reading "win"; the contestant picked squares and won the first prize they matched.
Beginning in 1988, the winning contestant tried to win a progressive cash jackpot by solving four puzzles in 20 seconds. Each puzzle consisted of six words, revealed one per second, that were clues to a person, place, or thing.
Jim Perry's assistants were Sally Julian, who was replaced by Lee Menning, who was replaced by Summer Bartholomew at the end of 1984.
From January 1985 to September 1986, a syndicated version aired concurrently with the network version, which ended on March 24, 1989. USA Network aired reruns in the early 1990s.