The mystery of the Led Zeppelin IV album cover has been solved over 50 years on after a researcher in the UK unearthed the original photo.
The image features a man with a bundle of sticks on his back, hunched over in a field. A researcher at the Wiltshire Museum uncovered the original source for the image while flipping through the pages of a Victorian photograph album. According to a report, Brian Edwards was conducting research for the Wiltshire Museum’s 2021 exhibition, ‘Ways of Seeing Wiltshire.’ Edwards came across the iconic photograph in an album dated 1892 and titled ‘Reminiscences of a Visit to Shaftesbury.’
The photograph is titled in the album, ‘A Wiltshire Thatcher.’ But Edwards is a long-time Led Zeppelin fan and instantly recognized the man. “I instantly recognized the man with the sticks. He’s often called the stick man. It was quite a revelation,” Edwards told BBC Wiltshire after making the discovery. Following the discovery, handwriting analysis done on the photograph’s caption suggests the photographer to be Ernest Howard Farmer.
The man in the photograph was also identified as a man named Lot Long (1823-1893), a widower who lived in a small cottage in Shaftesbury. To create the album cover, the band had the black and white image hand-colored and then framed against a wall of peeling papers. The album features the band’s hit, “Stairway to Heaven” and was immortalized in the UK on a Royal Mail postage stamp in 2010.
“Led Zeppelin created the soundtrack that has accompanied me since my teenage years,” Edwards said in a statement. “So I really hope the discovery of this Victorian photograph pleases and entertains Robert, Jimmy, and John Paul.” With the identity of the farmer and the photograph now known, the Wiltshire Museum plans to include the images in an exhibition. ‘The Wiltshire Thatcher: A Photographic Journey through Victorian Wessex’ will showcase the farmer’s life set in the landscape of Wiltshire and Dorset.
“It is fascinating to see how this theme of rural and urban contrasts was developed by Led Zeppelin and became the focus for this iconic album cover 50 years later,” David Dawson, Director of the Wiltshire Museum told the BBC.