Bufford was the first employer and art teacher of Winslow Homer, but was also a prolific lithographer and competitor of Nathaniel Currier. Homer's fame as an artist and Currier's successful publishing firm, which became Currier and Ives, overshadow Bufford's legacy as a commercial illustrator of books and sheet music. Nevertheless, he was a popular and successful artist in his day. He also made drawings of disasters, a precursor to the newspaper photograph. Born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Bufford apprenticed in Boston and, by 1835, moved to New York, where he opened a lithography business.
By 1840, he had returned to Boston and formed a partnership with his brother-in-law in a new lithographic printing firm, for which he did most of the drawing. The business, with and without his brother-in-law as partner, thrived until the late 1860s, when photolithography became a widely available, less expensive alternative. As an engraver, Bufford was dedicated to replicating faithfully the work of other artists.
His own work after 1840, however, took on a sketchy, shorthand duality. With tastes already beginning to shift toward a photographic naturalism, he gradually withdrew from the drafting side of his business and hired younger artists to carry on in his place.