Old Man on ‘Led Zeppelin IV’ Album Cover Apparently Identified as a Thatcher Named Lot Long

A half-century-old mystery regarding the identity of the man featured on the cover of Led Zeppelin’s classic 1971 album, Led Zeppelin IV, apparently has been solved.

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The BBC reports that Brian Edwards, a historian at the University of the West of England in Bristol, U.K., believes that the elderly man in the photo, who is shown carrying a bundle of sticks on his back, most likely was a 19th-century thatcher named Lot Long who was born in the U.K. town of Mere in 1823.

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Edwards, who’s a longtime Led Zeppelin fan, told BBC Radio Wiltshire that he discovered the image of the man while looking through an old photo album in the course of doing some non-related research and that he believes the pic was taken by a photographer named Ernest Farmer who died in 1944.

Edwards explained that he found a handwritten signature that just read “Ernest” in the album, and noted that he needed to do some detective work to determine Farmer’s identity. Noting the professional quality of the photos in the album, Edwards figured that the photographer might have been a chemist since many of them were involved in photography during the Victorian era.

Using handwriting samples he found online, he was able to match the writing in the album to the handwriting of Farmer, who was the first head of the then-Polytechnic Regent Street’s School of Photography (the institution is now the University of Westminster).

The album, which is titled “Reminiscences of a visit to Shaftesbury. Whitsuntide 1892. A present to Auntie from Ernest,” also features images of building and scenery architecture from the areas of Wiltshire and Dorset, U.K.

After that, Edwards delved into researching men who worked as thatchers around that time, and he determined that the man in the now-famous photo was Lot Long, who passed away in 1893.

The photo of the thatcher and other images from Farmer’s album will go on display at the Wiltshire Museum in April 2024 as part of an exhibit titled The Wiltshire Thatcher – a Photographic Journey through Victorian Wessex.

Released in November 1971, Led Zeppelin IV is the fifth-best-selling album of all time in the U.S., having been certified by the RIAA for more than 24 million units sold. The album is packed with many of Led Zeppelin’s most famous tunes, including “Stairway to Heaven,” “Black Dog,” “Rock and Roll,” “Misty Mountain Hop,” “Going to California,” and “When the Levee Breaks.”

As for how the photo of the thatcher wound up on the front of the album, frontman Robert Plant supposedly bought a colorized version of the pic at an antique store near a home owned by guitarist Jimmy Page in Berkshire, U.K., and the band decided to use it as part of the cover art.

The description for the upcoming Wiltshire Museum exhibit includes a quote from Edwards, who says of identifying the photo, “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, Jimmy, and John Paul [Jones].”

Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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