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Mystery man on the 'Led Zeppelin IV' album cover has been identified after 52 years

The rock band's iconic 1971 cover for their fourth album has been shrouded in mystery. Thanks to Brian Edwards, fans finally know who the man on the cover is.

Mystery man on the 'Led Zeppelin IV' album cover has been identified after 52 years
Cover Image Source: Led Zeppelin, is performing at Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California on July 24, 1977. (Getty Images/Photo by Larry Hulst)

The iconic English rock band Led Zeppelin needs no introduction. Their fourth album titled "Led Zeppelin IV", released in 1971, has sold more than 37 million copies worldwide and includes the band’s most popular song, “Stairway to Heaven.” What was particularly mysterious about the album was its cover art, which featured a framed portrait of a man with a large bundle of sticks on his back hanging on a decaying wallpapered wall.


 
 
 
 
 
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Who was this mystery man? Thanks to Brian Edwards, a historian at the University of the West of England who spotted an original copy of the image in a Victorian photo album, fans finally know. The long-time fan of the band owes it to sheer luck that he managed to stumble upon the discovery, per The Independent. “Led Zeppelin created the soundtrack that has accompanied me since my teenage years, so I really hope the discovery of this Victorian photograph pleases and entertains Robert [Plant], Jimmy [Page] and John Paul [Jones],” Edwards said.


 
 
 
 
 
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The man on the album cover has finally been identified after 52 years as 69-year-old Lot Long, a Victorian-era roof thatcher in rural Wiltshire, a county in southwestern England in the 1890s. Led Zeppelin’s frontman Robert Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page likely spotted the original framed and colored version of Ernest Howard Farmer’s photo while at an antique shop located in a village called Pangbourne, west of London.

Image Source:  Led Zeppelin performs at the San Diego Sports Arena in San Diego, California on March 14, 1975. (Getty Images | Photo by Larry Hulst | Michael Ochs Archives)
Image Source: Led Zeppelin performs at the San Diego Sports Arena in San Diego, California on March 14, 1975. (Getty Images | Photo by Larry Hulst | Michael Ochs Archives)

Edwards believes that not only was the photographer an important figure in developing photography as an art form in late 19th-century Britain, but he also also taught photography. According to Edwards, he had used a black-and-white print of the image to teach students how to colorize. One of those versions may have ended up in a frame in an antique shop and the colorized version of the picture is likely to be lost. As for the solving of the mystery, Edwards told The New York Times, “It sounds like good detective work, but in truth there was a lot of luck involved. I caught a few good breaks.”


 
 
 
 
 
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After making the discovery, Edwards reached out to the Wiltshire Museum, which will hold a special exhibition titled "The Wiltshire Thatcher – a Photographic Journey through Victorian Wessex." "This photograph is now in the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes. An exhibition featuring the image, along with others taken in the West of England during the Victorian era, is scheduled to be held at the museum in spring 2024," the museum wrote on Instagram.

David Dawson, the director of Wiltshire Museum, noted that the exhibition will celebrate the work of Ernest Farmer. “Through the exhibition, we will show how Farmer captured the spirit of people, villages and landscapes of Wiltshire and Dorset that were so much of a contrast to his life in London. 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 70 years later.”


 
 
 
 
 
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As for Edwards, he is the proud owner of a “Led Zeppelin IV” LP from the year the album was released. Even with the fascinating Led Zeppelin connection, he believes the exhibition will be even more fascinating.  “Even if this Led Zeppelin photograph wasn’t in there, this would be a very interesting exhibition about the quality of Victorian photographs,” added Edwards.