Photo Researcher Discovers the True Origin of Iconic Rock Album Cover

Led Zeppelin

The origins of the image on the iconic album cover for Led Zeppelin IV have been discovered by a photo researcher.

Led Zeppelin IV has on it one of the most successful rock songs of all time: Stairway to Heaven. But the photo at the front has always been a mystery; until now.

Original photo for Led Zeppelin IV.
The thatcher has been identified as Lot Long taken by photographer Ernest Farmer in 1892.

The image of a grey-bearded man bent over while carrying a large bundle of sticks is instantly recognizable to many music fans, but now he has been revealed as a 19th-century thatcher from Wiltshire, England.

The image was occasionally thought to be a painting but Brian Edwards, a researcher from the University of the West of England, was looking through a historic photo album and couldn’t believe his eyes.

“I instantly recognized the man with the sticks — he’s often called the stick man,” Edwards tells BBC Radio Wiltshire. “It was quite a revelation.”

Led Zeppelin IV album cover
The 1971 album cover for Led Zeppelin IV.

A name written on the photo album led Edwards to discover who the photographer was: A man named Ernest Farmer who died in 1944.

He then set about trying to discover the identity of the thatcher and his research concluded that it was a man called Long Lot who died just one year after the photo was taken in 1893.

Edwards came across the photo album while searching for auction house listings that might further his own research which focuses on the southwest of England.

Part of the reason Edwards recognized the image so instantaneously is because he bought a Led Zeppelin IV LP when it was released in 1971.

The version of the image that appears on Led Zeppelin IV is a colorized version of the photograph. How it came to be on the cover is not exactly clear but the story goes that two of Led Zeppelin’s members: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, were in an antique shop when they spotted the image and decided to use it.

Edwards tells The New York Times that because the photographer, Farmer, was also a teacher then perhaps he allowed one of his students to colorize the photo and it somehow ended up in an antique shop. The original colorized image is lost.

Old photo albums can be a treasure trove, last month PetaPixel reported on a photo preservationist who painstakingly restored thousands of glass plate photographs that reveal what life was like in New England 160 years ago.